There comes a point in time, at most elementary schools, when you have to choose what instrument you’d like to play in music class. Somewhere along the line, my parents came into possession of an old upright piano and, so, the instrument was chosen for me. I began playing when I was seven years old. When it came time to choose an instrument in school, I felt pretty good about myself, Well, I’m sure I put my hand on my hips, as eight year olds do, I already play piano, so I don’t need to choose an instrument.
My teachers didn’t really agree with this, but I stuck to my guns and refused to lug any ridiculous cellos back and forth to school or play the dainty, girl instruments like the clarinet or the flute. I remember that my arch nemesis, who was my arch nemesis because she and I battled for 1st place in the 100 yard dash at field day and because she and I shared the same name, which forever made me known as Melissa S., when I just wanted to be Melissa for goodness sakes, and I didn’t want to have to take all that extra effort to put my last initial on every school assignment I ever turned in ever, was very smug and proud of herself because she was the only child who chose to play the oboe.
It was decided that everybody had to play an instrument whether they played piano at home or not and if I wasn’t going to play a physical instrument, then I had to be in chorus. So, for four years in elementary school, I had to stand up in front of audiences and sing things like Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All” which made everyone cry at assemblies and talent shows and annual concerts, because there is apparently nothing more moving than 50 out-of-tune children singing about “learning to love themselves”. When I got to middle school, I was required to take music classes and, still, no one considered classical piano training worth the credit, so I had to take two more years of chorus. And when I got to high school, I was required to stay in chorus for one more year of music credit and, before I knew it, I was going on seven years of chorus so I figured: why not finish up the next three years of high school in the choir, and while I’m at it, sing at Christmas concerts and graduation too?
When it was all said and done, I spent ten years playing an “instrument” (But your voice is an instrument! my chorus teachers would exclaim) I never intended to play. And, to be honest, I never once considered myself a singer. Chorus had been chosen for me and, for years, I blended into the soprano section, quietly singing my required part as if it were simply my duty. I remember having to go to small practices where I would barely sing above a whisper with 5 or 6 other girls, and my chorus teacher, who had known me for years, became quite startled, one day, and said, “Melissa, that’s almost perfect. Now, if only we could hear you.” Of course, I had no intention of being heard.
But towards the end of my senior year, something came over me. Perhaps it was the shock of being almost perfect that made me feel I could audition for a solo. You had to do it in front of the entire class and I remember impulsively raising my hand and jumping out of my seat, my heart racing, and I listened for the piano, and somehow, no matter how many times I had practiced the part in my head, I could not keep track of the rhythm. So that, when I sang, my voice was completely ahead of the music and it sounded totally thrown off. It was a train wreck. It remains, to this day, one of the most embarrassing moments of my life and it confirmed what I had known for a very long time: I was not a singer.
Now, at thirty years old, I find myself in a strange place. My job does not require me to sing, but I have found myself in a position where I can sing if I so choose. And I do. I often go into our little media room and sing music demos for songs that will go into our toys. And, oddly enough, Vice Presidents and CEO’s of major corporations listen to recordings of my voice in many pitches and presentations. I have prefaced nearly every presentation with “I’m singing the demo, so you can’t laugh” and have been surprised when no one does. In fact, I have been told I sound more than okay and one person, God bless her soul, told me I sounded like Belle from Beauty and the Beast (a comment that nearly made me cry of happiness).
As it turns out, I am a “singer”. And it took me a long time to figure it out. I don’t regret the years that I sang quietly in the background, but it does make me wonder, what if I had auditioned for a solo when I was 8 instead of 18? Why didn’t I want to be heard? What was I afraid of?
You’re probably asking me, why are you telling me this long (I’m sorry it’s so long) story? Well, only you can know. Whatever it is you don’t believe you are, I urge you to rethink it. Don’t waste your time being afraid.