A Singer

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.

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6 thoughts on “A Singer

  1. No. This is a perfect post. My husabnd was told that he was 'not a singer' and to mouth the words so as not to put off others, at school. He obviously wanted to sing and I have always encouraged him. Now, he both plays the guitar and sings … and if it is sometimes not the exact tune, it does not matter; he is a singer and that is that. Schools often have a lot to answer for … and I can say that, having been a teacher.

    Thank you for giving voice … in words here and song, at work!

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  2. Over twenty-five years later and I still remember the teary parents from our sign language version of “You Light Up My Life.”

    And every girl born in the 70's was named Jennifer and one of my closest friends was also a Jennifer P, so that's how most of us ended up with nicknames.

    Great message in your post – I always feel so odd when I tell people I write, because of course they ask, “What have you published?” like this is the only measure of success.

    But 2011 – no fear!

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  3. Great post, girlfriend. I too was told I couldn't sing. As a matter of fact, at our church when I was growing up they made the entire youth group choir robes but me. Can you say hint, hint? We left that church, but I never sang out again. Hubby can sing and says my voice sounds great, but this always stuck with me.

    Rethinking it, thanks to my pal Melissa. 🙂

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  4. Great post! So much time is spent listening to the opinions of other people, that you miss out on doing the things that you really want to do.

    I say ignore what people think and go for it!

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  5. I love this story so much.

    I’ve played the flute since 5th grade because of the “pick an instrument” rule. I loved being in band and all that, but I wish so much that I had taken piano lessons as a child (and I’m kind of shocked that piano lessons didn’t count towards a music credit!). I took a class in college, but it just convinced me that playing piano is really hard and a lot of work. You’re really lucky to be able to play. It’s such an awesome instrument.

    I am sooooo jealous of people who can sing. I was never in choir and I’ve always thought I had a horrible voice. Mostly, I’m just terrified to get in front of people and sing (I’m a total downer on karaoke nights). Your story has given me hope though – maybe I’m secretly half-way decent and I just need to stop being so panicky!

    The new YA book I’m thinking of features a main character who sings (I plan on living vicariously through her). I might have to pick your brain about your vocal knowledge sometime!

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  6. I love this, too. Hmm. There are lots of things I don't believe I am. Thanks for making me think about this.

    I always wanted to play piano but we didn't have one and the most my parents invested in was a small keyboard but no lessons. My kids' teacher keeps telling me to learn along with them, but I resist . . . I know it's too late for me to get good, but I still might have fun with it.

    Like

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