To sing or not to sing


I’ve been told that a blog needs a focus- a mission statement, a raison d’etre if you will. As I look through the thirty or so posts I have put up here, I am laughing at how totally random this blog is becoming. Clothes and dolls and cooking and childhood memoirs- it’s all a hodge-podge without much aim. But it’s a pretty good picture of my life. I’ve always been a multi-tasker, so my blog should be too, right? Can I add one more thing to the mix?

It’s just that it seems strange to try and share the ways that God has worked in my life without mentioning music. I am a musician- a singer to be more precise. Yep, really. I have a piece of paper and the student loans I am still paying off too prove it.  But it’s not just a piece of paper. I was born into a rich heritage of singing. My mother and all of her sisters and most of my female cousins were and are strong alto singers. You should hear one of our family reunion hymn sings- so much harmony, very little melody. My father grew up with three sisters who used to travel and sing together and they could raise the roof off a church when they got going. .

I learned piano from my grandma, had music class at school, and I sang alto, and even tenor in school and church choir. I loved piano and worked hard to excel, but my fingers just wouldn’t do what I told them to do. When it came time for college, I thought about studying piano, but was afraid it would simply be too frustrating. Then a friend suggested I study singing. I thought it was a funny idea- to study singing.  I already knew how to do that- there would be nothing to learn, right? So I signed up for singing lessons as an easy option.

When I auditioned for college choral, I proudly wrote down my singing range as alto 2/ tenor 1. I sang a nice alto solo and showed off my impressive part reading on a few hymns. My teacher then asked me to sing the tenor part an octave higher, which I did, straining for the higher notes as I went.  When I finished, he simply said,  “Ah, that’s what I thought,”  and put me down on the roster. There was just one problem. He put me down as soprano 1.

Through the next four years I fought that designation as I struggled to stretch my range. I thought it was absurd. I was an alto. My teacher had clearly never been to one of my family hymn sings! But he persevered in asserting that there was a soprano buried deep in there.

I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a soprano. Soprano’s were warbly and shrieky, and, well, prima donna-y.  They sang opera and wore helmets with horns on them and they were showoffs.  I didn’t want to be classed with that type of person.  I was raised to play a supporting role- to be a strong and unseen foundation, not a diva.  But there was no denying my love of singing, and I slowly grew more comfortable with the high notes.  There were discouragements along the way, like the day I was practicing and a guy knocked on the door of my practice room.  He asked me why I made my voice all wavy like that. Embarrassed,  I asked him if he meant my vibrato. He said, “Yeah, that.  I don’t like it. Can you do something about it?”  and walked away.  I mean, sheesh!

Then I had a terrible misunderstanding with another teacher when I got lost on the way to a concert in which I had a big solo to sing. I never made it to the concert, and in the aftermath of that mistake he intimated that I was the most stuck up prima donna he had ever met and threatened to fail me.  I was crushed and I almost left the music department.  No matter how much I tried to the contrary, I was going to be branded as the self-absorbed diva.  I didn’t know how to reconcile the humility God demands of his children with my love of standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people and singing.

After college, I really struggled with decisions.  I was already married at that point, and I couldn’t figure out if I should continue on for my masters and teach,  pursue a career in opera, or give it all up and start a family.   Or maybe I should just be content to play a humble role in a struggling church choir somewhere.  But I had my diploma in hand and I figured I couldn’t just give up like that, so I started hunting around for auditions.

The first one I found looked really fun.  It was a local production of the Sound of Music.  I had been mimicking Julie Andrews since I was yay high, and maybe here was my chance!  I got to the auditions, but much to my chagrin, I realized that all the lead roles had already been cast.  I was told by a very snooty Mother Superior that I could play nun # 972 if they could find enough habits.  I wasn’t willing to spend all that time in a production if I wouldn’t even get to sing “How do you solve a problem like Maria” so I tried for option 2.

A small local opera house was putting on Madame Butterfly.  The main lead was already cast, but I thought I might have a shot at one of the minor roles.  Ah naive child that I was!  I dressed nicely in slacks and a blouse, grabbed my folder of music and headed to the audition.  I got there early, so I was able to realize my folly to its fullest extent as I watched each subsequent soprano come through the doors in satin and sequins and fake jewels, followed by a harassed looking agent in a black suit, carrying her portfolio full of glamour shots and talking rapidly on a cell phone.  I wanted to sink through the floor.  When they called my name, I could feel all of those false-eyelashed and scornful eyes burning into the back of my Target clearance-rack blouse as I walked past.  I was nervous as all get out, but once I started singing, things went a little better.   Even so, as the song ended, and before the judges started talking, I knew the answer would be no.   More importantly, I wanted the answer to be no.  I thanked them for their time, sneaked out the back door and laughed at myself all the way home.

I decided for the time being to find a struggling little church choir, or maybe teaching wouldn’t so bad.  And hey, at the very least I could now sing the melody at family reunion!


2 thoughts on “To sing or not to sing

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