Even if we had idyllic childhoods, we can all likely point to a moment when we felt “scarred.” A moment that, at that time, felt so monumental and painful that we thought we may never recover. I had one of those moments…in 9th grade Concert Choir. I attended an all-girls school in Philadelphia, and freshman year some of our classes (starting off with music and art) were coed with the boys from the school across the street. So 9th grade Concert Choir was a BIG DEAL.
Anyone could take Concert Choir, despite the fact that technically there was an “audition.” That was just a formality. So when the female teacher of this class who will go nameless (she had a male counterpart, and thank goodness for Mr Weir!) told me in front of the entire class, HALF OF WHICH WERE BOYS, that I should consider fulfilling my music requirement another way, I turned, not red, but purple in embarrassment. She went on to tell me that I should consider joining the hand bell choir.
I managed to recover from this body blow to my self-confidence, and Mr Weir allowed me to stay in the class. I made it through the holiday concert just fine as a member of the alto section. But my humiliation was not over. For our end-of-the-semester “exam” one singer representing each part had to sing “A Whole New World” from Aladdin (it was quite popular that year). So I was placed next to a soprano and a tenor with a young man singing the bass line just feet away. We all started to sing, and I guess I strayed from my part and started singing along with the boy next to me. My teacher stopped the song and said in front of the entire class, “Emily, you are a girl, you can’t sing the tenor line through the entire song.”
Again? Come on! I was a brace-faced freshman. Did I have a target on my back, or more accurately, a target on my vocal chords?
With this preface, you can understand the reason that I have not sung out-loud in pubic since the late 1990’s. And I’m serious. While I take true pleasure in singing loudly and boldly alone in the car, I usually lips sync at church and even my go-to karaoke songs are not actually selections that require singing. I rap (Tupac and Wyclef being my favorites).
But my personal singing drought stops now! In the spirit of this blog, of putting myself out there, and not being afraid of failure, I will be singing at a cabaret night/fundraiser at the Mansfield (Mass) Music and Art Society next month (more details to come). Yep, not only will I sing out loud in public, I will stand up on a stage and sing for tons of people…who will have paid money to be there. Yep, this is completely insane.
Luckily I have two experts to get me ready. Chrissy Lamont, an amazing singer and a musical theater veteran was kind enough to agree to sing a duet with me, “Class” from the show “Chicago.” I will be singing the part of “Momma” (a.k.a. Queen Latifah). Check out how real singers do it here:
Additionally, vocal coach Christine Kasparian is donating her time and talent to whip my voice into performing shape. Christine runs a variety of musical programs and also offers voice lessons, mostly to kids. This seemed perfect because my singing ability is around a 10-year-old’s level.
We had our first singing lesson this past Sunday, and even though I’m no longer that mortified freshman with braces, I was still really nervous. We started out by talking about breathing, and did some exercises to help me breath from the diaphragm and not from my chest. It was harder than I expected. We then started warming up my vocal chords by singing scales, which immediately produced flashbacks of the failed singing attempts of my youth. I was fidgety, and uncharacteristically shy when I was attempting to hit high notes. But I was reassured by the news that I was not in fact tone deaf. According to Christine and Chrissy, I could “find the note,” (i.e. I could sing the note they played on the keyboard) but my voice was “not developed.” I guess belting out Fleetwood Mac in my car has not been enough to develop those muscles.
We moved on to rehearsing the song that Chrissy and I would be singing next month. This was a little tricky, because despite the fact that I took piano lessons for several years, I cannot read notes. So we took it verse by verse, I would sing along, and we strategized how I could reach the notes…and hold them. We did this for several hours. Here is a sneak peek, or more acurately a listen, to the progress I made:
(Please excuse my framing. I promise you will be able to see my entire face in the video of the final performance)
Let’s just say that I’m lucky I have a month to practice.
What was so interesting about this experience is, despite the fact that I know I don’t sound very good, I don’t really care. I’m not as focused on the potential of embarrassing myself (or offending my audience’s eardrums) as I am focused on proving to myself that I can do this, despite my sordid history with singing. While this inner-reserve won’t prevent me from being laughed off the stage (although I really hope that doesn’t happen), at least I’m not preoccupied with that possibility at this point in my preparation.
More details to come on the date of my performance…in case any of you want to witness this spectacle in person…and of course I will have a full re-cap post after my debut.
Many thanks to Christine Kasparian and my dear friend Chrissy Lamont for helping me through this process. My self-confidence has been boosted by your support. I was not compensated in any way for this post.