#7: So You Think You Can Sing

#7: So You Think You Can Sing

I remember the moment very clearly in Advanced Chorus for Unchanged Voices, whose ungainly class name was surely one of the few downsides of Title 9. I was standing next to the perfection that was Cynthia Smith, a senior trifecta of popular, pretty, and nice. In addition to being a cheerleader, like that wasn’t enough, she had highlights before I even knew such things existed and walked in an aromatic cloud of Cinnabar perfume. I made sure everyone in my 9th grade classes knew she stood next to me on a regular basis.

I had been in church choir before, but singing was a radically different experience without my mother standing with the sopranos a scant two risers away. And in Adv Chor Unch, the stakes were much higher than heaven and hell. This was high school, after all.

We were singing a new song, something about a meadow as per usual. And I remember thinking that for a new song, it sounded pretty great! I had picked up on the harmony fairly quickly and was singing with uncharacteristic confidence. But amidst the occasional new-song-wobbles, there was a continual thin, reedy sound. Though Miss Kerlin stopped us and picked the parts out on the piano, the dissonance continued. And then… her fateful words: “I think Cynthia and Renee have the alto part nailed down. Why don’t the two of you show us how it’s done?” So, I launched into my very first duet, surely the first of many! With my soon to be BFF, Cynthia! And the first few words I sang were full of hope and social promise.

I wish I could tell you that that I had finally discovered something I did better than a cheerleader. But it quickly became apparent to Cynthia, and indeed the whole class, that the thin, reedy sound was me.

You would think the revelation that I was responsible for the abject noise ruining rehearsal would be the moment I remember most clearly. The pinprickly embarrassment of public shame. And certainly, I do remember that part. But I was a shy kid, quiet, who felt insecure about everything from sports to wardrobe choices to the fact that my hair did not have the sun-kissed appearance that seemed effortless to everyone else. This was a painful strikethrough on the short list of things I thought I could do well.

I am forty*mumble* now, so the days of Adv Chor Unch are a pretty distant memory. At some point in my life I put “I can sing” back onto the list of things that I can do. Current musical moments are often in front of a crowd, with a microphone and a band to back me up. But I’m hardly a professional, and taking credit for whatever sound I make seems as silly as feeling proud that my eyes are blue. Other than listening to the music around me and remembering to breathe, all I do is open my mouth and sing. I can talk myself into doing well and talk myself into doing poorly, but it seems to work best when I don’t talk to myself at all.

A lot of us sung into our hairbrushes back in the day, and shows like The Voice and American Idol can feed the dream that Someday, My Secret Talent Shall Be Discovered.  A lot of hopeful musicians make thin, reedy sounds on those stages, and while I identify with them a little too much to enjoy watching them, they do remind me of something. Everyone has a list of things they can do well. Everyone makes thin, reedy sounds at some point. The intersection between thin and reedy and top of the do-well list isn’t really on a map. But you can find it, if you try.

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