I’ve always loved singing. I often tell people this, but sometimes it feels like they don’t quite understand what I’m saying. They agree, because don’t the majority of us enjoy music in some way or other? Babies love to hear lullabies, and toddlers jam out with percussion on pots and pans. Kids bond over campfire singalongs. Adults drink and karaoke. It’s easy to strike up a conversation about favorite bands or musical genres with a perfect stranger, knowing that even if you don’t have a specific song in common, you’ll at least most likely be able to agree that you find certain sounds pleasant. This concept expands even to people in the d/Deaf community, with d/Deaf musicians playing their instruments by vibrational feel, suggesting the true power of music is more than just sound. Non-humans get in on the action, as well. Songbirds are kind of obvious, but think of frogs, whales, and hell, even gorillas make up happy little humming songs to celebrate a nice meal.
But when I say that I love singing, I’m not talking about how music sounds good, or singing is fun. It’s more of a spiritual declaration. I mean that when I’m singing, I feel whole, connected, and truly at home. When I’m doing it right, it feels like I’ve opened a direct line of communication to the universe. For years, I’ve wondered if it’s possible that we’re all seeking our energetic place in the structure of things, and if vibrating at the right frequency helps us to slide into the spot that best fits us, the place where we’re truly meant to be. Could singing help me tune my physical and energy bodies to align?
For the most part, in my day-to-day life, I feel alone, outside, and blocked from expressing myself completely. It feels like there’s a veil between the words I share with people and the meaning I’m desperately trying to tap into and convey. Writing helps me bridge this gap somewhat (after all, if you know me in real life, and also read me here, the two voices are strikingly different, are they not?). My brain is always dissatisfied with my performance in day-to-day matters. But that doesn’t happen when I’m singing. When I’m singing, I’ve punched a hole through to the other side, and my voice bridges the divide. When a note is clear and strong, it is like laying a brick in my own foundation, and declaring to whoever is out there that I am here and ready to work. It’s not just that I like music. It’s that I am music, and when I sing, it feels like my purpose is being fulfilled.
Last week, I took a private voice lesson. It was my first-ever private lesson, though I’ve taken group lessons and classes in the past. It’s been years since I’ve attempted to sing anywhere other than the shower or the kitchen, and the process of meeting a new teacher and trying to explain what I was looking for in lessons was nerve-wracking. The fact is, my confidence is so low that it was a fight just to book a lesson, much less to create and convey aspirations. I’ve never wanted to be a pop star. But would I love to wear a ballgown and sing “Ave Maria” at Carnegie Hall? Of course. To be the witch in Into the Woods? Who wouldn’t? To get to play Aaron Burr in Hamilton and sing “Wait For It”? (Maybe that’s a weird goal for a woman, but oh well.) But I have terrible stage fright. My brain goes completely blank, and I lose all words. And I’m not getting younger, and appearing on stage requires more stamina than I might be able to muster. So I figure that aiming to join a community choir would be a safe goal.
The voice teacher’s studio is situated in a beautiful raised Italianate house (mansion?) in the Broadmoor neighborhood. The original interior structure of the house has been kept mostly intact, with some interesting differences. Each of the downstairs rooms has been transformed into a small studio space. My teacher’s space had a new, secondary set of solid wood doors over top of the original French doors, preserving the originals while providing greater soundproofing. Two of the studio walls featured built-in floor to ceiling bookcases, and just the right amount of sunlight flooded in from two generously proportioned windows. My teacher situated himself behind a grand piano, and began to ask questions: why was I here? when had I last sang? what did I seek to gain? did I like my voice? I started to sweat as I explained my convoluted history of using my voice and giving up. I didn’t try to explain to him that even though I only sing in the shower, it feels like the only time I’m alive. I just struggled to keep believing that I had a right to be here, and this wasn’t an interrogation.
After the brief fact-finding mission had concluded, we transitioned into a couple of voice exercises just to gauge my range. The teacher had me follow along as he played scales to see how high and how low I could sing, and when we finished, he moved his hands from the keyboard to his lap, leaned back, and stared at me for a minute. “You have a beautiful instrument,” he said. A beautiful instrument. Imagine that. Me, with a beautiful instrument. He went on to say that I had full range of at least three octaves, and he thought I might even have three and a half with some effort (I didn’t sing to my full capacity on the high notes, but rather stopped where I started feeling uneasy). He went on to clarify that he, a trained and performing opera singer, only had two octaves, which was more of the norm. I don’t know much about that, but it felt really nice to have a professional tell me that I haven’t been imagining that I have potential all this time, and that even though I’ve waited so long, there’s still a chance to make something of my voice.
The rest of the story is rather anticlimactic, to be honest. The lesson was only thirty minutes, so we discussed picking a few songs to work on together, and then it was time to go. I’m looking forward to going back this week, and seeing what might happen. I think I’ll ask him if we can work on Julie Andrews’ version of “I Have Confidence,” from The Sound of Music. It might be good for me to work with a kind of mantra in mind, and build out from there. I hope that this is a step towards home.