“I know how strong you are”

    ROXBURY – Since singer Ryan Hayes was eight years old, he has said that he suffers from stuttering.

    To avoid being ridiculed as a child, he said he would do his best not to get into a conversation with anyone.

    “When my class was reading[at Booth Free School in Roxbury]I learned to mark the time where I would ask to go to the restroom so they would skip my turn,” Hayes said. “I would sit in the bathroom stall and count until I thought they were done and I could then go back to the room.”

    Hayes, who is 35 and lives in Queens, New York, has come a long way from hiding in the bathroom. On Saturday, he will release his first album – “Beautiful Stranger”.

    He said through his music that he wants to give hope to others who stutter.

    Living with a stutter

    Hayes said he believes his stuttering stems from childhood trauma.

    My father and mother were in divorce. My father was an alcoholic. He was in the hospital because I think it was like a month. Hayes said. “And somewhere in the middle of that, I started to stutter really badly. I think it was a mixture of nerves and uncertainty.”

    He said nothing was done to help him – his parents did not admit there was anything wrong with him.

    “The stutter kind of slowly developed into a nervous stutter, which got worse and worse and worse,” he said.

    One day, Hayes made a discovery that changed the course of his life – when he sang, he didn’t stutter.

    “It was so weird. It kind of happened. I started singing in the school hallways,” Hayes said. “And people started finding it cool. I was just walking down the aisles and people were picking a song at random and it kind of started becoming something where I would sing whatever song they chose.”

    According to the Stuttering Foundation, there is evidence that the brain functions differently in singing than in speaking.

    “When we sing, we generally know the lyrics of the song by heart. Sometimes word retrieval or word search plays a role in stuttering,” the foundation said.

    An additional reason to be able to sing without stuttering is to use the vocal cords, lips, and tongue differently than speaking. The Stuttering Foundation said there’s less time pressure when singing, and the rhythmic pattern of the music tends to help regulate breathing.

    When Hayes was in middle school at Shepaug Valley School in Washington, he joined choir—and in high school, competition choir. Through the competition choir, he traveled throughout Europe, performing in France and London. He also sang at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan.

    “Singing was my way of dealing with stuttering, and through that, I realized it was something I really wanted to do with my life,” Hayes said.

    He sang with an a cappella band at Five Towns College in Dix Hills, NY, where he received his Bachelor of Music degree.

    After graduation, after serving in the Army Military Reserve Police, he took several jobs as an audio engineer.

    “We did large-scale production of the events, and although my primary focus was on sound, I would have to do all the other aspects of the production – lighting, stage play, audio visuals, room decor,” he said.

    Through communication, he met many celebrities including Ethan Hawke, Samuel Jackson, Fran Drescher and Robert De Niro.

    In 2015, Hays began working on his current job – for New York City as an audio engineer.

    ‘from heart’

    Hayes said the 11 songs on “Beautiful Stranger” are “From the Heart” and tell a story that “pulls your heart strings.”

    The message of “Beautiful Stranger,” a mixed genre of songs that includes country, pop, reggae and rock ‘n’ roll – is that there’s more to someone who catches the eye.

    Seeing someone’s outside, Hayes said, it’s impossible to tell what’s going on inside.

    “When I was a kid, maybe people thought they knew me, nobody really knew the demons I was wrestling with,” he said.

    This is the case with everyone, he said.

    “We look at people and only see what they want us to see, which makes them all beautiful strangers,” he said. “There’s a lot about everyone that we don’t know. We don’t really know what people’s lives are like or what someone is dealing with, and we don’t know what someone has been through. If we open our minds a little bit, there’s a lot out there.”

    He said he remembers being afraid to do anything because being in front of people talking was terrifying.

    “And for anyone who has never known anyone who has a stutter, they just don’t understand that this person is afraid,” he said. “They second-guess every conversation they have which is psychological trauma. It frustrates you and you shouldn’t be afraid to try things just because.”

    Hayes wrote and created the original music for each song on the album.

    In addition to this, he has two singles called “Beautiful Stranger” – named after his album, and “I’m Coming Home”.

    “I’m Coming Home is simply a fun summer pop song about just coming home to the person or thing you love the most,” he said.

    Last fall, Hayes enrolled in a program at a struggling school called the Hollins Institute for Communications Research in Virginia, which he said he would never forget.

    “It was my first time in a room with a lot of people stuttering. We all shared the same story,” he said, adding that he keeps in touch with everyone he meets from the show.

    While Hays has learned techniques to help overcome stuttering such as slowing down when speaking, he said stuttering will always be a part of his life.

    “It hasn’t been resolved and I don’t think it will ever be resolved,” he said.

    He wants to use music as a platform to help spread stuttering awareness.

    “People don’t talk about it enough and you don’t see it on TV. You don’t see it in the movies and you don’t see it in music,” he said. “I want to be a voice for people who don’t have a voice.”

    He encourages others who stutter to talk about it – and tells them they have a “superpower”.

    “You looked at the world from a different perspective and that made you stronger than the average person,” he said. “Now, all you have to do is realize how strong you are.”