Sob. I Can’t Sing. And Yet I Do So, and Loudly

My singing ability leaves a lot to be desired. This is truly sad because I have ALWAYS been a little performer and loved to sing. As described in previous blogs I love music – my home was filled with it growing up, and I followed pop music from the time I was about five years old.

Part of the fun of enjoying the pop songs was singing along. LOUDLY. Even if I botched the lyrics. Oh and I did the same with my parent’s albums of show tunes. I had a friend on my street, Nicky, and she and I would perform show tunes – singing to the records and acting them out. I didn’t know to lip sync back then but at least the real recording drowned out my voice.

Oh I loved to sing. It was such a love in fact, that I thought about it as a career, very briefly back in elementary school.

Did you ever love something so much but then found out that it was not obtainable? It is the ultimate annoyance. It’s almost like some of us are given MULTIPLE talents in life, and others just a single talent. Some people marvel at my writing, so I am glad I have that. But boy, would I love to be a triple threat.

I was first informed I couldn’t sing in Junior High School – I think it was the first time I heard the term tone deaf. I wanted to be in Choir but during my audition, I was asked to sing notes played on a piano. I was clueless how to sing those notes, and just thought I had a naturally good voice because of my love of music and singing.

It’s kind of like the delusional people trying out on American Idol who are shocked to hear that they can’t sing a note correctly. I found out a bit earlier. I later took a tape recorder to prove it to myself and sure enough, it was almost painful. Although I could carry a short, easy tune just fine hitting the right notes, anything beyond a middle C and complex was impossible. So while I might be able to get away with “Happy Birthday,”  the “Star Spangled Banner” was never happening.

My husband, who is a good singer, was surprised to learn this about me. When my kids were young, I sang lullabies to them every night and they truly loved this. They weren’t thinking, “Mom really can’t sing at all.” But when they were teenagers, they were relentlessly cruel to me as I sung loudly to pop tunes in the car, while transporting them to endless activities. They thought it amusing how I would belt out songs clueless as to how I was butchering the song. They took advantage of every opportunity they had to hush me up by teasing me mercilessly.

Now, I am a firm believer in self-improvement in areas where I am deficient and I was even more scarred by my teens, so I did a bit of research and found a weekend seminar by a voice teacher named Claude Stein called “The Natural Singer.” It was going to be held as a weekend seminar in a spa in Austin, so I thought that would make for a fun weekend and dragged my husband to it.

The weekend was fun and the seminars, mostly new age and self-improvement, brought a lot of different types of people. My seminar group had a very mixed bag of people.

There were those of us who had been scarred terribly by not being able to sing. Others were absolutely TRAUMATIZED.  I remember one gentleman said he was told NEVER to even sing Happy Birthday during parties.

Others were told the old “tone deaf” thing by mean teachers who humiliated them in front of others.

And still others could actually sing and just wanted to improve their voices. (my husband)

This motley bunch was not a challenge to the great Claude Stein. He had heard it all before. He told us we will all be singing – better and more confidently – by the end of the weekend.

The culmination of the course was a performance where you had to pick a song and sing it a capella in front of the rest of the class and Claude. Afterwards, Claude critiqued and the class members wrote postcards of affirmations and praise for your performance.

I almost quit at this point. Though we bonded as a class – there were tears, fun sing-a-longs, hugging, sharing throughout the weekend, I did NOT want to sing in front of others. There were many others who shared this fear.

I was going to sing the Beatles “Here Comes the Sun” since it is a simple tune and I knew I could do it well, but I decided to sing the Barney Theme instead at the last minute since I sang it a thousand times to my kids and I knew I could sing it in tune and hit all the right notes.

In my sweetest voice, in front of all other adults gathered – damaged and whole- I ridiculously sang the Barney Theme, “I Love You.” As insane as this moment should have been, I received nothing but love. The postcards, which I keep in my night table drawer to this day many years later, said things like “Arlene, very sweet and pretty voice, right on pitch, you should have more confidence.” In fact, “Sweet” was the overriding theme word for my singing on all the postcards.

Did I learn how to sing as a result? Well, not really. But I try my best to sing in tune when gathered with others, and use that “sweet” voice that I sang the Barney song in to disguise the missed notes.

And these days, I am mostly in my car alone, or when walking or jogging alone, so I can belt out any tune I want without fear of criticism for my lousy singing. Is it painful to hear? The car will never tell….

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  • bet you’d hold your own with Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Dah!

  • Oh yea! I remember that weekend. It was scary knowing we had to sing in front of a large room of people. But Claude, who is a professional singing coach who still coaches singing stars at the highest levels, had a way of helping everyone sing better by the end of the weekend. The spa was beautiful. Felt like being at camp, for grown ups.

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