Saturday, March 03, 2012

Sing out loud

I have discovered that, very occasionally, some of my preconceived notions, things I believed were absolute, things that were on solid ground, these notions,  have turned out to be, well, not so solid. Maybe it’s to do with my 40s, perhaps I’m going through a second adolescence, but with less acne, and a much thicker waist. I’ve given up a few bad habits that I thought I could never live without. I discovered Buddhism and UUism and embraced both. I’ve discovered that the world I was so sure of 10years ago does not exhist anymore.

my pennies, so far
Which brings me to this blog, a homework assignment. Homework from my Voice/Singing Instructor, Vickie. I am  to write about singing. Yes,  Voice Lessons. In a fit of bravado I decided to get over my own Phonophobia, get way out of my comfort zone and see if what I thought about singing, specifically mine, had any basis in fact. I have handed myself over to a woman who when she tells me to lie on the floor and hum, stick two fingers in my mouth and sing, bend my knees when I attempt high notes, or sing like Ethyl Merman, I say okay, and get into position.  Also, the best part, she gives me pennies when I do well! Most of the time I have no idea why I'm doing what I'm doing, but Vickie seems to know what  she's talking about, so I do as I'm told, which includes writing about singing.

Singing and I have a long and tragetic history. Even my own mother told me I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, that no one in our family could, it was a perverse sores of pride for us. The house I grew up in was mostly silent. My mother, the libarian filled our house with books, which was lovely, but very quiet. There was no radio playing, I don’t think we owned one, and the TV, that was tucked downstairs in the basement like a shameful secret. The record player was used maybe once a year to play classical music when company was over and my brother and I were banished. My brother, it turns out, has a marvelous voice, bass, deep, rich and in his thirties he taught himself to play guitar, banjo, ukulele and likely several more instruments. He joined a choir. I watched in amazement as this blood relative of mine brazenly expressed himself musically. Helping my children with their piano lessons was enough to convince me that I had no aptitude what so ever with musical instruments.

I might have got over my first opinion of my voice had it not been for ..... (dramatic pause, feel free to gasp) Snowy Owl! This trama to my musical ego came when I was about 9 years old and a Brownie. During a singing circle Snowy Owl leaned over and whispered that I should just "mouth the words".  That sinched it. My voice was no good. After that every comment, however slight, slide into that “best to mouth the words” crevice of my brain. I wanted to sing, very much so, but became very shy about the sound of my voice. Later I would think it ironic that I could easily remember lyrics to most songs, but would never sing them out loud unless I was alone, and the music was louder than my own voice.

I have always cringed at the sound of my own voice, not as I hear it when I speak, but if I hear it recorded. To me it sounds dreadful, heavy and nasally. I dislike hearing a recording of my voice as much as I dislike having my photo taken. The sad part is there has always been a part of me that wants to be up on stage, wants to be speaking, wants to be singing, that part of me got quieter over the years. Sadly my teenage dreams of  fame and adoration were cut off at the knees, and my performing only happened when I was alone in the car. Secretly, I would love to be on a stage, looking fabulous and singing, or acting. Secretly, because I had always seen it as some nasty trick to give me these dreams and then to make me completely unsuitable for them.  Only now in my 40s has the idea that maybe I might just give this a try popped its head up and ask to be heard.

Having kids can be a great way to get over yourself. When they were babies I sang to them, I performed their stories for them, they were my first and mostly appreciated audience. I find my best audiences are pre-verbal..They didn’t know what my mother and Snowy Owl did, that it would be better if I "mouthed the words", they were happy to have a funny mom.  As they became more discerning, I quieted down, but they are still the people I am mostly myself with. My oldest daughter, Catherine is quite gifted musically. She sings, plays piano, guitar, clarinet, contrabase clarinet, a little ukulele (my brother’s influence) and she has performed musically since she was 4years old. I was her Brownie leader, and you can bet I never told any of my Brownies to "mouth the words". With her perfect ear she seems to need to merely look at an instrument to learn it, and hear a song once or twice to learn to play it. It was with this perfect ear that she once noticed I was “a little flat” when she heard me singing, that comment slipped quickly into the “mouth the words” crevice.

And here I am in my 40s, and in so many ways I worry less and less about what I think other people think of me, and I started paying attention to what I actually thought and liked about myself. This appeasrs to have been a slippery slope thought wise because not only have been taking voice lessons for months, carefully storing every precious ‘good job!’ penny Vickie has given me, but I’ve taken two acting workshops, one classic and one improv, both of which I loved, and plan to do more of. I also took up a martial art, Hapkido, and work my butt off at it am pretty good at it, go figure. My 37year old self would not recognize me at 47.
How I saw myself (in reality it was full length flannel)

There was a turning point that came from a marvelous corrupting influence in my life named Jo, who after singing beside my quiet mummerings in church told me to speak up, that I could sing if I wanted to. What craziness was this? As an aside this woman has managed to worm her way into many of my preconceived thoughts forever changing me, for the better. So there she stood, 6” shorter than me in some flowing garmet, practical hair and stunning voice, a person who has looked her demons in the eye until they blinked and then got on with her life.  A person who hardship has molded into a wiser, more compassionate and beautiful person. She is the sort of person if she told me something, I believed her. Someone who when she spoke you listened to, if you had any sense. This person was telling me to sing. So, a few years ago, because of Jo I did the unthinkable; at our Saturnalia talent show I got up in front of an audience and sang.  Okay it was with about ten other women, all with strong voices, and we were in pajamas so the focus wasn’t completely on me singing. Still, I had a small argument with myself over it, the "mouth the words" part of my brain was saying you have no business being up here with these women you big poser, you should mouth the words for everyone’s sake. Then I would hear Vickie and Jo who gave nothing but positive reinforcement, how could not listen to them? So we performed, and were a smashing success. Afterwards I off handedly said to Vickie, you know I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, or some other preprogrammed message from the nasty crevice. Her response? “I didn’t notice”. This was Vickie, who is all things musical, how could she have missed my dissonant performance? Was it possible I wasn’t a complete flop?

Since then I’ve done some singing workshops, a bunch of chanting and have sung out loud, in a group. Now, with Vickie I’ve sung out loud, on my own with only a piano. An experience I thought I would never have. I don’t always match pitches, and I've been  known to warble a little when I run out of air, but on the whole, I'm not a compete flop, or even a partial flop which all on his own is remarkable.

I'm not up on stage singing, yet, but it is on my bucket list. Right now I'm content to trust the process and see where I end up. Thanks Jo. Thanks Vickie.

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