Oh, to Sing
"Ooooohhhhohhhoh … “ I struggle to maintain the pitch; I fail.
choir members are observing; there is muted laughter; I take this as ridicule.
“I think you should take voice lessons from me,” Jerry, my church’s liturgy director, said.
With that, a dream and a nightmare intersect …
I had never learned to sing but loved to do it. I particularly like doing it in Church; my wife did not enjoy hearing it.
"No, I don’t know how I sound;
Yes, I realize I’m singing loudly;
No, I don’t know I’m off pitch;
Yes, I would guess I’m off pitch;
No, I don’t know what to do about being off;
Yes, I can read music" ( e-g-b-d-f for the lines and f-a-c-e for the spaces for cryin’ out loud! )
"No, I don’t know how to make my voice the same pitch as the middle line of the staff;"
( And, holy crap, yes, I know the middle line of the staff is B!! )
Sounding awful was not easy to admit; I thought voice lessons the solution. The hurdles were numerous, onerous.
I guessed lessons not cheap and we didn’t have much discretionary money. I used that to cover the real reason for hesitation: fear of failure. Admitting to a shortfall of cash was easier than admitting this!
After a meeting he and I were part of, I had the impromptu audition.
“I think you should take voice lessons from me.” Did I fail or pass the audition?
No matter. He saw my eyes widen and I heard and felt my stomach tighten and churn.
His, “Think about it; give me a call,” gave me time, but did not set me at ease. My knees became rubbery, my stomach hot as acid, my breathing as though a python gripped my chest; but I knew I’d take the lessons.
I had nightmares … a piano; Jerry at the keys; me on the other side; nothing else; big room; “Sing,” he’d demand.
Sometimes nothing, not even off-key. At others, the mournful bellow of a beached whale. Always, Jerry’s face taunted me. So strong was my fear.
As I knew I would, I eventually called: “OK, next Tuesday, 4:00, I will ask the receptionist for you.”
Walking up the sidewalk to the Church offices, I imagined the entire neighborhood looking, “Someone is coming for singing lessons!” I didn’t wonder how they knew.
I noticed that Rita, when ringing Jerry, “Walter’s here to see you,” failed to completely suppress a snarky grin. Or was that my imagination?
My nightmare was spot on; Jerry, me, piano, big room. Only I wasn’t tied down; Jerry neither taunted nor demanded. His face was kindly, suggesting my tone should go up or down to match the piano’s.
He didn’t like using the f- word ( flat! ). “It is so imprecise.” He used it anyway. “Yeah, that was … flat.” He’d stand at the keys when I needed to raise the pitch a little. He’d say, “Raise your eyebrow,” when I didn’t seem able to raise the pitch. “Raise two eyebrows,” when I raised my pitch but not quite enough. “Stand on your tip toes,” as I continued to struggle.
All this silliness kept me loose; the lessons highlighted my week; the work began to pay off.
It’s funny … very small successes seem very large in a brand-new endeavor. And they came. Matching a pitch; knowing whether I am low or high; knowing how to correct. Tracking changing pitches as Jerry went up and down the keys, sometimes covering more than an octave. Even … yes … learning to correctly sing a song.I sing more quietly in church now; more mindful, more respectful and Ellie doesn’t slide away as she used to.
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