Sunday, September 13, 2009
in which i turn from singing to other things
The above photo illustration is a snapshot I just took of some stuff on my fridge. Included is a picture of me from 1999, singing a duet with my father at my church's 125th anniversary dinner. I was also a waitress that night - hence the black pants, white shirt and tie. My hair was pulled back in a ponytail, BTW. (Defensive explanation for why I seem to have so little hair.)
This morning I heard Toronto Mass Choir perform at another church in London. A friend of mine from Toronto sings in the choir, and I billeted her - along with two other women - last night. TMC is phenomenal, and gospel music always touches me more deeply than most other genres of music, but this morning I actually started weeping during one of their pieces. It featured an amazing female soloist, who can also be seen in this video, below.
The thing is... I like to sing, myself. And for many, many years I studied classical voice and wished I had one iota of the talent that this woman has in her pinky finger. I sang solos, duets, trios and quartets, all the while participating in various choirs over the years, singing everything from first tenor (only once or twice!) to first soprano.
I burned to perform. I yearned to touch people's hearts, and impress them with my skill. Deep down, however, I knew I didn't measure up. My voice cracked on the high notes. I sang flat. My solos were like all those nightmare auditions on American Idol. I loved to sing, but singing didn't love me.
It didn't help that I had crippling performance anxiety most of the time. It made my voice shake, and left me breathless and squeaking. In the end, soloing became a nightmare. I still liked singing in ensembles, but my trained ear began obsessing on the sounds I was hearing around me, and if I couldn't perfectly blend my straight voice with someone else's vibrato, I felt a physical sensation akin to nausea.
Then I started watching YouTube. And being able to see all the amazing talent out there - including this favorite recent audition for The X Factor, below - reminded me of just how mediocre I really was.
Is there a place in this world for okay singers? I'm sure there is. And I'm equally sure that, even in some small way, my singing has touched at least one or two people over the years.
But honestly? There are things that I'm much, much better at.
Seeing TMC this morning reminded me that we're all given gifts to share with the world. Not all of those gifts are soul-searing voices. Sometimes they are the ability to speak a kind word, or comfort a crying child, or raise the consciousness of a community. Sometimes they're talents like cooking, or praying, or administrating, or farming.
I have abundant talent as a writer and as a visual artist. Plus the nice thing about both is, if I don't get it right the first time, I can always edit or start over before sharing with the public. Not so easy to do with live performance.
I don't want to live with regret that I never tried hard enough to succeed as a singer. I tried very hard. I have no regrets. But it's time to move on to something else, while I still have the time and energy.
I'm not singing in any choirs now. And while I'll never say never, it's likely I'll never solo again. But my life is full, and I have other gifts to share. Besides - Dad still likes singing the occasional duet with me. If I sing again, I can always say he made me do it...