I was having a conversation with my dear friend Jeannie, who is, among other things, a singer/songwriter with a long story and a beautiful smile. She was telling me about a season in her life where she literally could not sing. She had a total blockage. Not just like some sort of emotional blockage…she literally could not knit together the breath from her lungs and the strength in her diaphragm to make one note eek out. And this lady has recorded albums!
Hearing this astounded me. Jeannie has always sung, seemingly effortlessly, since I’ve known her. I was floored! How could this be? She went on to tell me more of what had happened, and also how she had once again found her voice and now sings for the sheer joy of it. And thank goodness, because now more than ever, the world needs her voice in the choir!
But that got me thinking: how many of us don’t sing anymore? Can you relate to this? I certainly can.
I used to sing all the time. Growing up, there was always singing. My family made music together, we sang in church, I worked at camp and sang literally every day all summer. There were always choirs and small groups to join, and I was never without song. In high school, I sang in a quartet and we traveled around. Whenever friends would be driving anywhere, someone would put in a CD (OK fine, it was usually a tape. I’m older than I think sometimes.) and we would all sing along, sometimes in beautiful harmonies. All of us! In college my girlfriends and I joined the BSF…the Black Student Forum…so we could sing in the choir. Somehow, the BSF didn’t notice or care that we weren’t black, and we danced, sang, and smiled our way through every rehearsal and performance (I may or may not have been asked to “calm down” a time or two, but that’s another story). Ah, the energy and beauty we created together—it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced since!
I should mention this: for all the singing we did, it isn’t that my friends and I had particularly noteworthy voices. Most of us were just normal kids with songs to sing and joy in our hearts, and we did so with gusto. Some of the happiest moments of my life were spent singing with other people I loved. Why did I ever stop?
Well, the answer to that is long, but I’ll give you the main reason: I got self-conscious. I married someone with a GORGEOUS tenor voice, classically trained and heartbreakingly beautiful. He had traveled Europe with a group from his university, and their CD (yes, by this time technology had moved forward) was a masterpiece of choral bliss. I used to love listening to him sing…in fact, on one of our first dates, he took my arm in his and serenaded me with a hilarious piece he still remembered from a musical he’d been in, and I just melted. It made me want to marry him right then!
So, what was the problem? Well, I compared my untrained, wobbly voice to his. And he, with nothing but pure motives, would offer “helpful tips” on how the quality of my voice might be improved. I’m certain he didn’t mean any harm, but I took it as judgement and criticism, and just found that I sang less and less. Sure, I’d still join in a chorus at church or whatever, but it wasn’t like before. I wasn’t making music anymore.
Unfortunately, this affected how I mothered my children. I’d always pictured myself as the goofy mom with a thousand songs and silly tunes to shower my children with, but in reality, I hardly sang to them when they were little. At least, it wasn’t nearly as much as I wanted to. I pictured a family full of music, with my daughters gathered around the piano and us going through life as a musical, complete with costumes and backdrops. Instead, we sort of…just didn’t sing all that much.
A lot happened after that, and now I find myself starting over. One of the things I’ve decided will be different is that I’m going to sing more. But here’s the crazy thing: the songs that used to spontaneously erupt from my heart? They’re so far buried that I have trouble remembering the words! And on top of that, when I do sing, the strength isn’t there yet. I can’t always find the harmonies I used to easily produce. My voice feels scratchy and laborious. But, even though it’s not easy, I’m not giving up. I need to sing. We all need to sing. We are creatures of music, and when we let our own voices be our instruments, beautiful things happen to us and the people around us.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from difficult times, it’s that I have to remember who I am. When we get too far from center, we hardly recognize the person we’ve become, and that feels really awful. So, I’m singing again, even if my voice feels tired and I’d just rather not let other people hear me. Because if I don’t sing, who will? Maybe if I do, others will have the courage to join in!
If you’re at all like me or Jeannie, you know life is seasonal. Maybe we’ve come through a period of silence, or despair, or sadness, or frustration…whatever! That doesn’t mean the rest of life will feel this way. And it doesn’t mean we can’t sing. So, I challenge you. Find some zany, beautiful, upbeat songs and teach them to your children. Let’s give them songs, all sorts of songs, to help them through tough times and to be a glorious backdrop for good times. Because music is literally able to unite people (or divide them, so let’s pick songs with substance!) and help us remember we are all really the same. Let’s train this next generation to have the guts to risk being heard, even if we don’t sound perfect. In fact, perfection should never be the goal of any form of art…it should be simply for the joy of doing it. If we happen to sound great, well then that’s just an added bonus.
(TOP photo: Wenatchee World file. Four members of the Cashmere Grace Lutheran Church Junior Choir raise their voices in song in 1958. From left are Kathleen Sopp, Shannon Sollars, Lonna Kiehn and Keith Sopp. SECOND: Wenatchee Valley College music director Dr. George Bower (at piano) rehearses with soloists performing in the annual Christmas concert of the Collegiate Singers in 1959. From left, are Mrs. M.L. Westerberg, Mrs. James Starr and Hugh Evans. THIRD: Wenatchee High School’s barbershop chorus tunes up for a barbershop quartet festival Nov. 8, 1980. From left, were Jon Phillips, Craig Bromiley, Jim Miller and David Holeman. FOURTH: World file photo/Kelly Gillin. Teresa Frazer of Olympic College in Bremerton leads the Wenatchee High School Treble Clef Singers in a clinic in 2006. FIFTH: The “Cabeh-Kickers,” a kids octet from the Columbia River Music Conservatory rehearse last year. SIXTH: Wenatchee World file photo/Tom Williams. Sharon Davis of Wenatchee sings “Why Can’t He Be You” at Trav’s in downtown Wenatchee in 2003.)