Are you a singer? Most of us would answer “No!” with a shake of the head and a shudder.
Have you sung? The answer to this is usually affirmative because who hasn’t joined in a rousing version of the “Happy Birthday” song when the cake comes out shining with candles. Some of us have a story about the time we did sing, high school choir, at church, during a school play. Almost no one has gotten away without singing at all.
Some of us have been asked not to sing. So many friends have shared stories about their enthusiastic third grade self belting out a tune only to be told to sing more quietly, or further back…. or not at all. Many a spirit has been crushed by the suggestion that “Maybe you could just mouth the words”.
But what child do you know who doesn’t let go with a tune at the drop of a hat?! Whether it is singing “Let It Go’ along with Elsa, “Hakuna Matata” with Timon and Puumba or the Micky-D’s theme song at every commercial break (da da da da daaa, I’m lovin’ it!), kids are not afraid to let their singing flag fly. Innate is the tendency to find beauty in the variations of pitch and tone (and with some kids VOLUME!)
Have you ever stood next to someone and heard them sing and when you turned to compliment them have been met with “Oh no, I can’t sing!” “But….. you just did. I heard you!” you think. We think that to sing means that you must sing perfectly or else not do it at all. How many of us would be comfortable going on one of those contest shows where people judge your abilities? The mere thought is terrifying! What if no one turned their chair around?! What if you were one of the contestants who heard “Kinda pitchy dawg”?To quote an old song, “It’s the worst that could happen!”
As an actor, I have been often called upon to sing, and given my boisterous personality and lack of stage fright, I have also been called upon to teach or lead hymns or songs that were unfamiliar in group settings like church or school. But I never considered myself a “singer”.
This last summer, I signed up for a singing workshop held at DeKoven Center here in Racine. I signed up on a whim for this week-long retreat thinking it would be a fun way to use my voice since I had not been involved in any sort of music practice for a few years.
When I got there, I was greeted by Opera Singers, Choral Directors, Professional Musical Theatre folk and Voice Teachers. They came from all around the U.S. and from such far away spots as Brazil, Tahiti and Europe. I was totally freaked out. I was afraid to open my mouth. “I SO do not belong here!” I thought, and started to plan how I would disappear without anyone noticing.
Luckily, the workshop focused on us as individuals and there was no competitive component. No one tried to “out-sing” anyone else. We did exercises that helped us find ease where there was usually tension, and joy where angst usually resided. I discovered that even the fancy-schmancy opera singers had the same fears and concerns that I did, and that they also had days where they felt that their voices were not performing perfectly or even the way that they knew that they had previously. It was very liberating.
When it came time for my “exploration” (i.e. singing by myself in front of the group) I was filled with trepidation again. I considered performing a complex musical theatre piece, only for the purposes of “impressing” my new friends with my knowledge and understanding of Stephen Sondheim’s difficult and unique offerings to the genre. But when it cam time to sing, I took to heart the advice of the wonderful teachers that led the retreat. The whole point of singing is to connect with your audience; to captivate them and transport them to the world of your song.
Instead of a show-offy piece, I decided to sing a simple tune that had touched me and moved me many times during difficult transitions in my life. I took to heart the admonition not to dazzle, but to connect. I felt free and easy and when I looked out at my audience, I saw that they had received the gift in the way that I had intended. It was trans formative. I realized at that moment: I am a singer.
Now you may never consider yourself a “singer”, but I am sure that if you allow it, you can let the beauty of making music transform you also. Find your voice. Live your truth. Let the melody within you come out and connect with others. And no matter what you sound like, don’t just mouth the words.
Another retreat for singers of all levels will be held in July of 2019 at DeKoven Center here in Racine. Check out the link for more info.