Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do

There are many parallels to finding your voice in your writing, finding your voice in your singing, and finding your voice in your life. I have been a work in progress on all three fronts. I continue to take the smallest steps to letting that voice out whenever it feels restrained, and I am learning to trust it.

Voice Lessons

Lalala…  Mimimi…  🙂

When my sister and I were young, we often forced our parents to sit through shows where we would stand in front of them and sing into our hair brushes.  Our program was always an eclectic mix of Captain ‘n Tenille, The Monkees, Elton John and The Carpenters. I recall “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” often made the playlist, as did “Oh What a Night!”   There were even dance moves!

Both of my parents sang in church choir and Barbershop [my dad is on the right in this video!], so it should not have come as any surprise that a wide range of music touched us as we grew up. Summer vacation road trips with the eight track player had us singing songs from Roger Whittaker (still scares me that I remember the words!), The Way We Were, Genesis’s Abbacab, and various Barbershop quartets (again the words follow me! and my dad is 2nd from the right).  [What can I say? We were young, and not able to buy our own music!]

As we got older, our shows fell by the wayside, but I never lost that love of song. Even though we had hung up our hair brushes, we still spent hours lying on the floor listening to records (yes, vinyl – I know, I know! I am aging myself!)

I took voice lessons in high school and found a deep affection for Broadway show tunes and classic jazz vocal standards.  Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand… I longed to sing on a stage like one of them.  While, I never joined choir at church or chorus in school, I did participate in Upstagers where we preformed plays and musicals. I took part in recitals that were filled with wonderful music and a lot of laughter. [I still smile whenever I hear“Big Spender” and picture my dad turning beat red as I shimmied around him with a feather boa! 🙂 ]

I went to Crane School of Music for Music Business, with my instrument as voice.  I remember calling my dad after the audition.  I was in tears and told him that I would have to come up with another plan because there was no way I got in.  I had come prepared to sing a few songs and that was it.  But there were tests in sight-reading, music theory, aural theory… things I either had never heard of or never been exposed to.  A few weeks later, though, I was thrilled to receive an acceptance letter! I immediately started planning my musical career. 🙂

Anyone who has ever been accepted to it will tell you music school is not easy.  There is a ton of work and even more competition.  And that is where my demons first started to show their little faces.  We were required to take performance classes in our instrument.  I was placed in a class with many upper classmen, some of whom were opera majors.  The required pieces were all art songs in various languages.  I had never sung in a foreign language, nor had I ever been in a critique class where I stood in front of people and sang and then let them pick my performance apart.  I was terrified and it took me at least two months to actually get up there and sing.  I only did it then because I had to in order to pass the class. No matter how much I practiced, I messed something up in each song – a rhythm, phrase, pronunciation, breath control, dynamics – then I sort of zoned out during the critique portion, hardly hearing what was said and wishing the floor would swallow me up.

I did extremely well in written music theory, a class I had never been exposed to before.  I loved the logic of it, the mathematical properties of music.  Aural theory was a nightmare – Really? You want me to write down the tune you are playing on the piano? You want me to sight-read? You want me to tell you what intervals are in that chord just by listening to it?  Needless, to say, Improvisation wasn’t my strong suit either.  Piano, I loved.  A whole class of beginners wearing headphones and only the teacher (who looked a lot like an 17th century composer with all that fly-away white wispy hair!) could hear me.  Still, I was not a prodigy.

Maybe that was part of the problem… I went from being if not a big fish in a small pond, at least a singing fish in a small pond in high school, to a very tiny bit of plankton in a vast sea of people much more talented than I was. And instead of being inspired by them, or motivated to learn from them, I was terrified that they would find me out  – I was an imposter and I should have never been allowed in.

I transferred to SUNY Fredonia after a year and graduated with my Music Business degree. I still had to take written and aural theory, piano and performance for non-performance majors, but the pressure to perform at the opera level was lifted a bit.  Still, I didn’t seek out opportunities to sing alone.  And even socially, I found myself growing quieter and more withdrawn.

I was in the beginning stages of depression and anxiety that would plague me for ten years before I finally sought treatment for them. I am sad and ashamed to admit that in that time, and even since I started treatment, I have closed the door on my voice.  Somewhere along the way, I put it in a box, closed the lid, and tucked it away somewhere.  Singing had been such a huge part of my life and then one day I wouldn’t even sing in the shower.

Wow – I actually have a lump in my throat as I write that… The truth is hard, even when it has been your reality for so long.

In my late thirties, I tried to regain some of the music I had let slip away.  I started taking violin lessons from a very patient and wonderful woman.  I had no clue what I was doing, and there is no way to learn to play a violin without making a lot of noise.  It was just what I needed!  I made a lot of noise, and then I made music.  It wasn’t perfect. I never did conquer that whole vibrato thing. And I rarely ventured too far out of first position. But, those lessons were a complete success! They let me learn to be a beginner again.  To let myself make noisy mistakes and keep going.  I refused to play in the recitals but my teacher understood what the idea of a recital did to me, so she allowed it.

Now, not to switch gears too quickly (stick with me for a minute!) but many writing books talk about finding  your voice. On WriterUnboxed.com, Robin LaFevers posted about how many people become writers because at some point in their lives they have felt voiceless and powerless. Writing is more than just getting published – it is a journey to find our voices and the courage to proclaim that our words matter. She says that we must be willing to share our broken selves.  She asks “What box have you allowed yourself to be squished into? What ways do you accede power on a daily basis?” And in this post, I saw myself.

I have long hidden my writing from everyone around me.  My husband and a few very close people may have known about my dreams of writing, but they did not read my words.  That all changed this year. This year I took a huge scary step and put myself out there – broken bits and all.  I have started to understand that maybe my words are important, and maybe I do have something to say. It started with some words on paper, and on the internet, and is starting to filter into other areas of my life.

Lately, I have been feeling like some part of me is welling up and wanting to be heard.  A part that I have kept silent for twenty years. (I feel really old when I put a number on that!) I have dug out my Streisand albums, and blues CDs and have been playing them in the car.  I have let myself sing loudly, a bit pitchy and with little breath control after so many years away. I have found myself singing quietly in stairwells and bathrooms (great acoustics!) – a little unsteady but the melody is there.  And when a note comes through as pure and clear as I have imagined it could be, I can feel the tears in my eyes.

This is what I have buried; this is what I have lost.  This is my voice and I am giving myself permission to sing out loud again.

4 Comments

  1. This is such a great story. I am so glad that you are allowing yourself to find your voice again. Music is one of the greatest outlets and joys (at least in my opinion). Keep on playing and singing! You deserve it. 🙂

    • Glad it resonated with you! I find that music and writing are very similar in the release you feel, even if you are new to an instrument and not very good!

  2. Anonymous

    Excellent article,Cheryl!
    Mom H/

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