Facing my Fears (in D Flat)

A few weeks ago I admitted that I had not sung out loud in front of anyone since I was emotionally roughed-up by a 9th grade choir teacher. My friend and loyal reader Chrissy Lamont, brought up the possibility of a vocal adventure over a year ago, and if I am being honest, I didn’t follow up with her as aggressively as I have pursued other bloggy requests. But she didn’t let me off the hook. When she started assembling a fundraising cabaret night to benefit a very worthy cause (a loving couple fighting to retain custody of the adopted daughter whom they have loved and cared for every day of the last three years), I said I would do it! I would face my fears, and sing…out loud…in front of people…who actually paid to hear me (but mostly they paid to hear the accomplished singers who were also set to perform). And just as fast as I agreed to be a part of this special performance, panic set in.

The concert was this past weekend at the Mansfield (Mass) Musical Arts Society. Since my introductory singing lesson with Christine Kasparian, I had practiced “Class”—the duet I would sing with Chrissy—a lot; singing along to the soundtrack of Chicago in the car, and in my apartment (I’m sure my neighbors think I am completely insane…and tone deaf). But I had tucked the reality that I would be singing in front of an audience waaaaaay in the back of my head. It did not seem like reality until I arrived at the theater.


Photo courtesy of Wim Prest

I really killed it during the sound check. I mean knocked it out of the park. I felt relaxed, I had all the lyrics down cold, and my voice sounded strong. But as we crept through the first act my nerves got the best of me. I suddenly had trouble remembering some of the words as I went through them in my mind, my hands were clammy, and my stomach was in knots.

As the intermission came to an end the night’s master of ceremonies, the very talented and funny Rodney Raftery, opened the second act by introducing me and why I was there (obviously, an introduction was necessary in case I passed out on stage). During Rodney’s introduction a vocal child was politely escorted out of the theater while screaming, “No, no, no” at the top of his lungs. He must have known what was to come.

So why beat around the bush any longer, here is what you all have been waiting for: my singing debut.

So not to go all Type A on myself, but my actual performance wasn’t as good as my rendition during the sound check. I was physically stiff. I messed up some of the lyrics. I rushed it a little bit, meaning I started to sing a little early in a few spots, and then a little late in others.

I must have blacked-out while performing, because my time on stage seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. I barely remember what happened. But you know what, I got through it. After the show ended, members of the audience approached me with complements that included “Bold,” “Not bad at all,” and “Brave.” Yes, in this case all these do count as complements. And I was buoyed by their support.

Those positive feelings dissipated two days later when I finally brought myself to watch the video. I was mortified, and still am. Had I not promised to post it for all of you, I may not have. I sounded much better in my head. I’ve had pangs of regret over the potential embarrassment of having this video live on the Internet forever.

But what have I been saying for the last year and a half on this blog? I am throwing myself into life’s possibilities trying to find what I’m passionate about. In the process, I’m not letting fear, my perfectionist tendencies, or potential embarrassment hold me back. And this singing-phobia had been holding me back for 15 years!

So there it is. And here I am; slightly embarrassed after my most humbling adventure to date, but also proud of myself for getting up there.

Anyone want to make a date for karaoke? I know a song…

 Many thanks to my dear friends Chrissy Lamont and Rodney Raftery, and all the fabulous performers of The Rose Concert. Your support helped me get through this without loosing my mind…or my voice.

Belting it Out

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.