Monday, March 12, 2012

A song from me

If you read to the end, I'll sing you a song. If you're impatient, you can scroll down there now.

I've probably told you this before, but I always used to sing in the car. My mom loved it. She would let me go off on Rodgers and Hammerstein revues in the backseat, from "What's the Use of Wondrin'" to "My Favorite Things" and then some. I amused her with my ability to hold a tune, even at three years old.

Though I was in no way exceptional, my parents made me believe I was. They told me what a wonderful singing voice I had (both of them refused to sing a note, but my dad is a piano teacher) and how I had a natural-born gift to perform music. I believed it and I used my "talent" to perform in musicals in elementary school. When I was three, I even sang "It's a Small World" in a public talent show while wearing a fluffy dress with a pantaloon-esque underskirt. I received massive applause and a trophy for - I believe - second place, second only to a teenaged girl who probably actually studied voice.

Things went on just as well throughout middle school. In choir I had it reinforced in my mind that I was exceptional. Solos were given to me with a snap of my fingers - the instructor already knew that if I auditioned she'd be awarding me something to sing. I let this alter my notion of reality, even though in my heart I believed my voice was weakening.

Through the years I've grown more and more aware that I am not an exceptional singer. Whereas I started out my young youth believing I was impeccably talented, in recent years I've realized that this is a talent that should stay primarily in my home, not to venture outside because my voice - however pleasant to me - is not necessarily of interest to others.

There were a few incidents that solidified this perception for me. The first occurred one evening when I was singing quite loudly in my room. My sister told me that she heard neighbors complaining outside that I was too noisy. I hadn't heard a thing. While I still question to this day whether she was being honest or whether it was her own annoyance that made her tell me to shut up, it made me fear letting others hear my solo vocal performance in public from then on.

When I arrived at high school, I joined choir there. I assumed things would not be much different from middle school. But they were entirely opposite. I feared rejection so much that I refused to even audition for solos. I felt like a loner in the back of the classroom who had to listen to the other sopranos to tune my own voice, even though I knew full well I could sing on key.

At the same time I would spend evenings trying to sing with my dad as he played the piano. This was not an unusual pastime for us - even when I was very little he often accompanied me as I sang on a weekend evening. But one day I started crying mid-song and told my dad "I just can't sing as much as I used to. My voice loses its power quickly and sounds scratchy."

He tried to comfort me, but I knew that there was no hope for me if so early on in life I was already seeing my great childhood singing voice (or at least, what I believed was my great childhood singing voice) becoming something less inspired as I grew up.

Still, I tried to find ways to test my own inhibitions and use my voice in front of people. I auditioned for a few musicals and voice lessons - I even ended up taking individual singing lessons for one quarter at college. But I got so frustrated with myself that I had to stop.

Since a young age I knew that I had the potential to sing well - I have a pretty healthy vibrato and a strong mezzo-soprano voice. My problem is that I've never grown past the nervousness and the uncontrolled wobbling that makes my singing slightly less than perfect. And I've never learned the technique to keep from tiring out.

On top of all of those things - whenever I've tried to fix my singing problems, I've always failed.

In voice lessons I was reminded not to sing through my nose. I had to do exercises where I held my nasal passages closed with my fingers so if I was singing nasally I would know immediately. It made me so self-conscious that I absolutely couldn't stand it.

I began dreading lessons and eventually I retreated back to my dorm room shell where I refused to sing much. Anything could be heard through those paper thin walls and I wanted nothing to do with my own singing voice anymore.

Still I sang a bit in my free time. I would croon in my single dorm room as I blow dried my hair, thinking my suitemates couldn't hear (I was wrong). When I arrived home I'd sing while in the shower, while on the computer in my room, while baking in the kitchen, while dancing in the living room. There were no limits to the space or the length of time I would devote to my voice - in private.

But I still felt terrible about it. Why was I no longer proud to sing in public?

It's true that self-consciousness can get the better of you if you let it. When my sister told me to be quiet, I became so unnerved by the fact that people weren't enjoying my singing as much as I was that I stopped. When I got to high school, I started doubting myself even more without reinforcement from my teachers. When I was singing with my dad, everything began falling apart because even I began doubting my own skill.

Even though I still live with a feeling of inadequacy in singing, in my heart I believe there is still some bit of that wonderful young vibrant voice that won me a talent show trophy. For me, music is this wonderfully expressive medium in which my own performance actually makes me feel even more connected to the art than I could ever feel just listening.

When I sing, even if I'm not singing as wonderfully as I'd like, there's something that clicks. It's a feeling of passion and warmth. It's hard to explain. But I made a recording, so maybe - even though I'm hesitant to share - you can hear it:

It makes me believe that, even if I can't get solos and even if I can't please others with my voice: at least when I sing for myself I feel something in my soul that some people probably go their whole lives without feeling. And I shouldn't hold myself back from that. After all, it's a nice consolation.

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