I closed my eyes, I filled my belly with breath like I have been practicing for years in yoga and exhaled as I followed her piano scales up and down 2 octaves — over and over again…
I am one of those people who is totally affected by music. Not just listening to it, but singing along. I love show tunes, folk, camp, and holiday tunes.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much I love to sing and wish I could “really” land a tune on key and actually like what I hear coming from my voice. When I hear music I love, I get that dopamine flush of joy and calm until I start flailing around searching for the right key so I can join in.
It all started with Christmas carols. I have always loved to belt them out and never missed an opportunity to join in with a group of carolers. I know just about all the words by heart and most of the hymns. I was the only jewish kid in my class but that was just a detail. Felice Horowitz, front row christmas caroler, was happiest when singing… “Oh Holy Night.”
When grammar school was over — I sang in a High School choir and tucked my voice right behind the most melodic singers. I tried to harmonize everything and if I was off, I had others to cover for me… Joy To the World, Silent Night… I was in the choir but wasn’t surprised I wasn’t asked to do a solo.
My fearless public singing came to an abrupt halt when I tried out for the part of Valerie Perrine in Lenny, the musical, at my University. What was I thinking! I was asked to sing “Do You Know The Way To San Jose.” I had practiced quite a bit and was nervous but excited for the audition. I stood alone on stage and called upon my best Dionne Warwick visual as the pianist began. I got as far as “LA is a great big freeway, put a $100 Down And Buy A Car”…. and that was the end of my singing.
“Miss Horowitz, Miss Horowitz,” blurted out the casting director from the mid-orchestra section — “Thank you, that will be all…. NEXT!”
Defeated, embarrassed and ashamed that I had dared to bring my untrained voice on stage, I lost my public singing mojo right there and then. Not a great loss for the world — trust me.
Fast forward to years of singing in my private bubble of shower, car, on my bike and out on the ski slopes and onward to motherhood.
I sang to my kids – I finally had an appreciative audience. We sang Raffi, Christmas Carols and James Taylor. They played guitar and piano and I did a little bit too. Our dearest friend was a great pianist and every Christmas and New Years we had sing-alongs. These were truly our most favorite family/friend gatherings.
I always wondered if my voice could sound less strained, whether I could learn to harmonize my favorite songs …I really have always wanted to sing better. But I never did anything about it, knowing that I had no particular talent.
And then last week, in yoga class, when the teacher started playing the harmonium and chanting Krishna Das music, I was right there in the front row singing along. And then I heard a woman’s voice harmonizing with the entire room of 60 yogis. She was lying on her mat, on her back in front of me and her eyes were closed and the voice coming from her small frame managed to cover the entire room in harmony.
After class, I asked this petite woman, “Your voice, your voice is so beautiful and powerful, are you a professional singer?” And, yes, she said she was.
And at that moment I decided I wanted to take singing lessons. She told me she was a teacher and suggested I contact her teacher who just happened to live minutes from me. And so I did.
And just a few days later, I was standing in this teachers home…she at her grand piano and I, at the music stand. She asked me to sing some scales. I asked her to let me know if I was tone deaf right away so I could put a stop to this and spare us both. She promised she would let me know.
I closed my eyes, I filled my belly with breath like I have been practicing for years in yoga and exhaled as I followed her piano scales up and down 2 octaves — over and over again. Because I had never met this person before, I was not self-conscious at all. And I heard my voice coming from somewhere deep inside. It wasn’t beautiful, it didn’t really sound like my voice. It went higher than I imagined, and a little lower too…and, as I moved up and down the scales, I felt something shift inside me. It was like something had been stuck inside my diaphragm that I never had noticed was even there, and it moved aside and I felt itopen. I smiled as the tears streamed down my face. I felt that this was a moment that a fear deep inside me had moved away. Unprotected courageous and full of joy, I felt light.
When I opened my eyes she was smiling. “You are not tone deaf.”
“I don’t know why I’m crying, but I would like to continue singing. This feels so good.” I wiped my tears with my scarf and waited for instructions.
“Yes, let’s keep going,” she said.
It was the most joyful 45 minutes I could have ever imagined and now, I guess, I’m officially taking singing lessons.