“Ooooohhhhoooh.” … I struggled to maintain the pitch I was trying to sing, as the meeting’s stragglers, members of the parish choir all, stifled their inclination to laugh.
“I think you should take voice lessons from me.”
With that, a dream and a nightmare intermingled.
I had always loved to sing in Church. I enjoyed singing and gave wide berth to my desire. Shortly after getting married, I noticed that my wife, Ellie, at these times, would slink away from me. She did it subtly, but deliberately, and almost always with a furtive glance back to me; it let me know she didn’t really want to be associated with the source of that sound.
Fortunately we could talk about this … No, I don’t know how I sound. Yes, I realize I am singing loudly. No, I don’t know that I am off pitch. Yes, I would guess I’m off pitch. No, I’m not sure what to do about being off. Yes I can read music. No, I don’t know how to make my voice the same pitch as the middle line of the staff … Yes, I know the middle line is B.
I realize I sound dreadful; not easy to admit. There were hurdles to taking voice lessons.
The idea intimidated me; I had visions of failure. I’m not used to failing. I believed that failure here was likely.
I guessed voice lessons were not cheap, and we didn’t have a lot of money to throw around. It was easier to admit that than it was to admit being intimidated.
I knew two people qualified to teach voice. One was Jerry, our parish’s Director of Liturgy .
Not knowing exactly what had gotten into me, I asked Jerry to give me voice lessons. “No.” I figured I had dodged a bullet.
A year later, with no context whatsoever, as the meeting was breaking up, Jerry said to me, “Sing me a pitch … give me your best shot.” I sang ( tried to ) a pitch as described above.
His, “I think you should take voice lessons from me,” made my body quiver; I felt a chill, panic, perhaps. “Think about it. Give me a call when or if you want to pursue it.”
The decision was now mine. Why was I not elated? I knew immediately I would take him up on it; I also knew it would take a while. The intimidation was real.
My intimidating vision was spot on. He asked me to match a pitch he played on the piano. At first I didn’t always even know if I was above or below the pitch. I knew if I lowered my voice and raised it slowly I would, if only for an instant, be matching the note he was playing. This, of course, did not satisfy him. Eventually I could hold my voice steady enough and close enough to the played pitch that we would move on, to another pitch not far removed from the one I just successfully “mastered.” I slowly learned to both hear and feel when my voice and the piano’s pitch were the same. The first song I learned was, “Holy God.”
This excited me; it was learning that transcended mere understanding in my brain. That kind of understanding was insufficient. These lessons became the highlight of my week.
Jerry and I have been going at this for 11 years. Although Ellie no longer slinks away from me in church, I feel barely an advanced beginner. I now learn to sing songs, and sometimes I “get” them fairly quickly. Jerry still has me open virtually every lesson by matching pitches. He still, occasionally, has me sing “Holy God,” to make sure I haven’t forgotten everything I’ve learned.
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