I am seven years old. Last week I saw Annie onstage for the first time. I spent the rest of the week Hard Knock Life-ing and The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow-ing. I slept with curlers in my hair. I renamed my German shepherd Sandy. Then I asked my parents if I sound just like the real Annie. Based on their encouraging responses, all performances ceased.
I am in fourth grade. Our school play is The Pied Piper. My gal pals plan to try out for the main female role. It’s the talk of the school. On the way in from recess my music teacher pulls me aside and promptly informs me I will play Christina—the lead. Shy and speechless, I nod in assent and then inform my green-eyed friends. At the first practice I am forced to learn my solo before the entire grade 3 and 4 student body. If a nine-year-old can suffer a nervous breakdown, I am damn near close. Finally, after trying to coax out a note, never mind an entire tune, Mrs. Lyle agrees to let me perform a dance with my two best friends, who also join me in singing the song. Otherwise, there is no way I am setting foot onstage.
I am 14 and at summer camp. I audition for the musical, but will only read for a non-singing part. I’m tone deaf, I explain to the drama director. Everyone says that, he assures me. He follows me around camp begging me to please sing. (I guess my acting audition wasn’t half bad). I finally agree–and he casts me in the largest non-singing role. I play a middle-aged man.
I am in my early twenties, have an acting agent and am enrolled in an intense acting-for-TV course. It’s been a blast: scene study, monologues, improv. I love it. Then our teacher tells us to pick a song at home and prepare to perform it in front of the class. He might as well have asked me to do a nude scene. In fact, I may have preferred that. I get through it somehow but have no recollection. I quite possibly blacked out.
So, now that you know the back story, here’s the state of the union. I never sing: not in the shower, not in front my husband or kids, not even drunken karaoke. I mumble the national anthem at sporting events so those beside me can’t hear how terrible I am. I cringe when I hear my message on our call answer. How does my voice sound deep and husky in my own head, and like Minnie Mouse to everyone else? The ONLY time I remotely like it is when I am two days into laryngitis—you know that onset period just before you lose your voice completely? That’s my Demi Moore moment.
But the thing is, I secretly wish I could sing. How I loved to perform when it came to dance or drama! Sometimes I croon softly in the car or hum under my breath when I’m alone. But in public? Never!
So, it’s with great anxiety that I commit to this trial. At my first lesson with Michelle Newman, she shockingly assures me I’m not tone deaf. Though, I shake like a leaf and my jaw remains squarely clenched. No idea how I will ever lose these nerves. And lose them I must because here’s the deal: I need an end goal to make this experience relevant. And, unless I shout out said goal it will not happen. Drum roll please…
My grand finale will be a karaoke performance. Details TBA–and you are all invited to attend.
I think I’m going to be sick.
So begins my diligent work schedule of breathing, scales, bizarre warm-ups, facial relaxation exercises, lyric memorization and playing my first practice song repeatedly during the countless hours I spend in the minivan. For those who caught the Sing My Heart Out movie, you’ve witnessed the shame of my initial go-around. The sequel will be released this week. Let me warn you, it doesn’t get much better.
That said, I’ve learned that vocal muscles are like all muscles. Singers are athletes who have to train. Some are naturally gifted. I’ll never be a Serena or Venus but I can learn to hit the ball. I’ve noticed an incremental improvement even in my first week. I still sound all-round awful but I do hit the odd note. Have I found the joy yet? Not quite, but I’m actually having fun. Over the weekend, our family room becomes a karaoke club and, though the talent pool isn’t exactly deep, it’s priceless watching my kids gleefully singing—and laughing their heads off at me.
Dr. K has been oddly quiet through most of this—except when he entertains us with his Dylan impression. That sets off a debate amongst my kids as to which of their parents is the worst singer. Dr. K actually sounds like Bob so he’s not dreadful. Though, I’m not sure if impersonating someone who critics have said “croaks like a frog” is exactly a compliment. Never mind, I’d take it. Instead, my eldest says I sound like a dying bird. Guess which one of us wins the worst singer contest? Good thing I didn’t bet my bottom dollar.
Jeez, I am in so much trouble.