I’ve Awakened The Beast

In college, I used to sing. I even identified as a “Singer.” My minor degree is through the USC Thornton School of Music in Musical Theatre performance, back when the program was through the school of music and they stressed the “musical” part more than the “theatre” part. I hear it is through the school of theatre right now, which I do not agree with, but that’s another subject. As it was through the school of music, I was forced to take classical vocal training all 4 years so yes, for all intents and purposes, I was a singer. A soprano, actually. I tried to not tell people I was a soprano and I tried to sing more mezzo or alto songs because there’s a stereotype of sopranos as being dicks. I was a good singer/actor. I wasn’t GREAT. I wasn’t the next big thing. But I could certainly tolerate listening to myself. I was brilliant, however, at singing sad songs. I was Adele before Adele got her heart broken and became Adele. I remember trying to sing a “happy” song during a workshop once. My professor said that it made him feel weird and uncomfortable. So, back to making people cry!

I knew I didn’t want to be a performer as a career, but I did have a goal for myself: to sing at the Hollywood Bowl. As luck would have it, I got that chance the summer following my college graduation. I sang at the Bowl for 3 shows. Twice I was front and center in a small chorus during a show that was “A Salute to American Heroes” or something like that. Considering that other parts of that show included Marin Mazzie, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra playing the theme to “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker,” and a fireworks spectacular, we played to a sold out audience (approximately 18,000 people). The other show I was in was a one-night performance of “Show Boat,” again, in the chorus and sold out.

So then I was done with singing. I felt that I couldn’t really go up from there. Goals and dreams met and checked off the list and my sheet music was packed up, never to be seen again (ha) and my singing self got bound and gagged and shoved into the back of my mental closet. That was 11 years ago.

Shortly after I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area from L.A. and stopped performing, I began to sink into depression. Interestingly enough, I didn’t connect my depression to the fact that I was no longer singing. I connected it to a million other shitty things in my life, but until oh, say, a few weeks ago, I didn’t connect it to my not singing. Sometimes, I’m an idiot and I’m obtuse. Highly intelligent, but not always smart. That’s me.

In 2009 I was in SF and ran into someone I’d done a show with in college. He was a freshman when I was a senior. He’d just finished being in a new show on Broadway and was in SF doing a backers’ audition. He recognized me right away (we were in a coffee shop) and he bombarded me with questions, “How have you been?” “What are you doing?” “Are you still singing?” I told him I was working a shitty job while I got myself through library school and that I hadn’t sung since I left college. He did not hesitate to scold me. He said that when we were in school, I was one of his favorite performers. He went to all my recitals and he looked up to me and it broke his heart to hear that I’m not singing anymore. I did what any other normal person would do and I started crying, excused myself, and ran away. I do believe I actually RAN. Crazy is as crazy does.

I’ve moved back to LA, as you know, almost 10 years to the day I left. I was nervous. I have friends down here that I haven’t seen in 10 years that knew the me 10 years ago. The singing me. The me that wasn’t terrified to be alone on a stage. The virgin me (haha). With each reconnection, I was reminded of the me that was still huddled on the floor in my closet. This didn’t excite me; it freaked me out. True, in SF I’d do the occasional karaoke, but that’s totally different than singing w/ a piano. Most of your audience is drunk and/or not listening. The music is typically so loud you can’t even hear yourself. And the words are highlighted on a screen for you which takes out the work of having to read music.

In college, I met M, a brilliant pianist. He lived on the floor above me our freshman year and our friendship was quickly sealed during our many late night (early morning?) sing-a-longs at the piano in the lobby of our dorms. I brought him most everywhere with me. Every audition. Every time I needed to practice. We became so connected that I could be called upon to sing a song in class and have no idea wtf I’m going to sing, plop down some sheet music in front of M that we never rehearsed, and we’d perform together like…like I don’t know what. He was in my brain. He would know when I would take artistic license with the rhythm or tempo before I even knew I was going to do it. To say that he is a magician would be an understatement.

M is down here in LA. For my birthday in April, he gave me a certificate good for one meal in his neighborhood and then a sing-a-long. I cashed in on this gift today.

Last night I pulled all my sheet music off my shelf to sort out what I wanted to bring with me. I had a bit of a panic attack. I haven’t heard my voice in 11 years and I was terrified. I felt like one would feel if they were seeing an old lover after a decade apart (Note: if I saw my lover from a decade ago, I’d punch him in his scrawny goth face). How has my voice changed? What if my voice and I don’t get along anymore? What if we don’t feel the same about each other? What if my voice is fat and ugly now? What if it has wrinkles? WHAT IF MY VOICE IS GAY??? So, I did what any normal person would do and I sat on my floor, surrounded by sheet music, and had a bit of a cry. Especially when I opened old binders of sheet music and my homework assignments from college were still in there. When I said I hadn’t looked at my music in 11 years, I meant it.

I am shocked to report that my voice and I still like each other. Also, M is still connected to my brain, somehow. I no longer have perfect pitch, but I think I was pretty damned close most of the time. I tried to sing a happy song: still sucked. Realized I can do comedy, though, especially if I’m singing with a horrible Swedish accent (long story). My voice has gotten lower and I can hit low notes I couldn’t hit in college. I can also now sing songs that were too mature for me back then. The best way to sing the hurt is to know the hurt. Singing for me felt like riding a bicycle. Even though it’s been a while, my body knew what to do. It knew how to shift and expand and control as if I practiced daily. It was both awesome and scary.

I do not know what any of this means. Today’s sing-a-long was good for me. It made me feel healthy and sane. But now my singing self is free from the closet and running around saying “let’s party, bitches!” when the rest of me just wants to have a drink and read a book. I do not think I will be able to trick her into being subdued again and I don’t know if I want to.

We’ll see how it goes. 16 bars at a time.

Published in: on 05/27/2012 at 5:01 AM  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I love that you wrote this, and what you wrote. You speak to the universal experience of any artist or person with a talent who has, for whatever reason, put that skill set on the shelf and just left it there. I used to play and compose on guitar, but haven’t touched one for many years. You remind me that that was a happy thing for me, and something I want to nurture again. In spite of, or because of, the reasons I put it aside in the first place.
    So—what has happened with your singing since you wrote this in 2012, if I may ask?

    • I’ve not had/made the time to do much singing since I wrote this aside from singing around the apartment. I don’t play an instrument, but I’ve been considering maybe a ukelele. Something I can play while singing. I just have so much in life I want to do and so little time to do it all.

      • Well, at least you are letting your voice out now and then. And hey, a ukele might fit in really well with your impending tiki bar tour! 😀


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