Friday, January 21, 2011

dancing black dots.

 {from here}

I can’t sing.

Let me rephrase: I can't sing well.

In a community of faith that rather prides itself on singing — without instruments, no less — this is quite the conundrum.

Despite 11 years of musical training, I cannot seem to make my voice match with the notes I read. My former piano teacher would be ashamed to discover that although I can interpret those black dancing dots just as well as the next person, I only can instruct my voice to go up and down. My voice simply does not care that it should be belting out a C instead of squeaking out an A.

As a child, I remember sitting at the piano, back straight as an arrow, fingers curved just so (like a tennis ball is underneath!, my teacher would proclaim), singing along with the Disney song I’d been assigned to practice for the week. My mother called to me from the kitchen. “Honey, you don’t have to sing! Your playing is beautiful just like it is.”

My mother is not cruel, but I think that was her encouraging way of saying: Stick to piano, kid. Your singing voice stinks.

Of course, I’ve never cared what people think, and so I sang anyway.

Good singing voices run in my family. My mother once told me that what she remembers most about my grandfather is his voice: strong, quivering, deep. She can still hear it, she says, during the old hymns he loved so much. I think I will remember the same thing about my father and mother. My parents’ voices are, to me, distinct. They are not perfect or operatic — “In heaven!” says my mother — but they are clearly theirs. My father’s a bellowing bass and my mother’s a passionate alto. Even my brother, who claims he cannot sing a note, sounds good to me.

I am the odd one out, but, just as stubborn as I was at 12, I keep singing. In fact, until a few years ago, it had never occurred to me that my voice might not be as beautiful as those I heard around me. I'm not sure when I realized it, but it changed things, and so I became like Adam and Eve in the garden. I sang, but a little ashamed, and mostly to myself. At church, too, yes, but that’s because if I didn’t sing, I was afraid someone might notice. It’s an unspoken rule that you simply must sing in church.

Spectators we are not.

In the car with other people, I refused to join in. I remember dating Jordan, and a favorite song came on the radio. If I had been by myself, I would have belted that thing. But on a date, with a boy I didn’t know so well? No way. Even my confidence had its limits.

A few years ago, my sister-in-law took voice lessons. I remember the fuss made over recitals and notes and songs, how hard she worked and how important those lessons were. One day not so long ago, she confided to me and to Jordan that she wouldn’t sing in the car with her boyfriend (who, I will say, has the voice of the archangel Gabriel). “He’s just too good!” she told us. “I can’t compare!”

The thing is, she can sing really well, certainly far better than I can. Lessons, I suppose, helped. But she was too afraid of who was sitting next to her.

Anne Lammott writes that there is beauty in doing things badly, that we should all do things badly, or one day we will regret the not-doing.

So these days, I sing. Loudly. At church, in the shower, in the car. (My specialties are 80s ballads. I happen to blow Heart’s “Alone” out of the water.)

I sing with the radio, and I sing with no accompaniment whatsoever. I sing with Jordan. I sing in crowds and all by myself. I sing using the right words, or I make up my own. In church, I sing as loudly as I please, and I know — I know — it doesn’t always sound great. Most Sundays, I can’t really tell you if I’m singing alto or soprano.

But I don’t really think God cares one iota what I’m singing or how I’m singing it as long as it’s for Him, and as long as it is with unabashed joy and unbridled passion.

My mother’s father had the most gorgeous voice. Like my mother, I can still hear it during certain hymns or in the special gift of a moment. My father’s father, though, could not carry a tune. We joke, sometimes, that I must have gotten that gene, that random Papa B. gene, the only person in two family trees who had the same trouble with notes that I do.

The thing is, I never noticed that he had a bad voice. Maybe that’s because I’m tone deaf, but it’s true. Until my dad mentioned that I must have inherited my lack of skill from him, I never knew my grandfather had that bad of a voice. But I distinctly remember him singing.

One day, I suppose I will have children. And maybe they will think to themselves, “Wow. Mom has a terrible voice.”

But maybe all they’ll notice is that I’m singing. And singing is what really matters.


AbbieBabble said...

Beautifully written, as always. I, too, am a terrible singer, but so is everyone in my family. We all sing loudly anyway.

Lauren said...

I'm so glad that you sing - I believe that everyone, no matter what their voice sounds like (or what they think it sounds like) should use it to sing!! There is always someone who can sing "better" - just like there is always someone "better" in most everything in life - but it doesn't mean that we shouldn't still try!

And man, if Journey comes on in the car, you can bet that I am belting my little heart out :)

Anonymous said...

I love this post! I think the fear of what people will think is a debilitating one. I know it has held me back before, even in aspects of life where I'm told I'm talented. My word for the year is fearless, and this post fits perfectly in with that - thank you for writing it!

mom said...

Why do my children quote things they "think" I said when I have no recollection of such quote? Maybe it was because Wishbone was "singing" everytime you played the piano :)

We could all be stickmen in a picture said...

I wholeheartedly agree that singing should be a joy and as such everyone should sing where ever and whenever they like, I think the world would be a better place if there was no inhibitions about singing and everyone just sang walking down the street and at work.

Nothing makes me happier than breaking out into random bouts of singing at the top of my voice, I have been in choirs so have an 'ok' voice' but I definitely do not have a 'solo' voice but its not the sound of my voice i enjoy but the action of singing and just letting it all out in all its warbling glory!

Its strange just the other day before i read this, I said to my Dad I am going to record him singing one day because to me his singing voice just epitomises him perfectly and reminds me of lovely memories of just sitting at home hearing my dad bellowing out a tune in the other side of the house as he went about his daily business.He's a teacher and is renowned for singing to his classes!

He has a song for everything so I completely get what you have said about associating certain voices with certain people. Thank you for your blog and your sharing of stories and ideas, I love reading it :)