There was a time when singing and my voice were my identity, my reason for being. It mattered a lot that people knew I sang, and sang well. It such an ego pump to hear the applause and feel loved. When I lost that need in my 30s I flailed around for a few years wondering why I should go on singing. The answer, finally, was: you sing because you can sing.
So I sang.
Singing for fun is a joy. Singing professionally is hard work, and I never got the business side together. Singing professionally is as much about bookkeeping, photographs, bios, trying to book gigs, arranging tours, and keeping yourself mentally psyched up to handle all the rejection and poverty, as it is about singing.
Making a living is a heavy burden to lay on a talent, assuming you have talent. There are plenty of people who have the business side together and do fine with musical careers with little musical talent. There are a lot of people with talent who never become famous, or rich. You know it’s true.
But if you’re called to sing with however much talent you do or don’t have, what are you going to do? You’re going to sing.
I never was as talented as I wanted to be, and no amount of vocal exercises could change that. I wanted to be Joan Sutherland. The position was taken. I had to settle for about two and a half octaves, the middle of which, the speaking range, were pretty good. I had to learn to accept that, the same as I’ve had to accept a lot of other hard truths in life.
One thing I had going for me was that I sang on key most of the time. Singing that is on key is relaxing for people, although there are times when being not quite on pitch becomes a hook. All I can think of right now is the whistled introduction to "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," in the version recorded by The Highwaymen in 1960. The record was a huge hit, and the off-key whistled introduction was part of the appeal.
The other time that someone singing off key is not objectionable is when it’s being done by someone you love dearly. My father sang off-key, for example, and I loved to hear him sing.
From the 90s on I sang mostly in the church choir. When I became ill with mononucleosis and a few other pesky diseases in the fall of 2007, everything stopped for me, even singing in the church choir. I was shocked. I thought I was supposed to sing there every Sunday forever. But the choir went on without me, and so did the church, and so, to the best of my knowledge, did God. Another hard truth.
If I don’t sing for a while these days my voice becomes rusty, and I lose my upper notes. Sometimes I sit down at the piano and do vocal exercises to limber up the vocal chords. I would like to apologize to any neighbors who happen to hear that. Limbering up my voice is not a pretty process. I wrote in my journal one day, "I hit a high C this morning, and I don’t think the high C will recover."
I definitely do not have the lung capacity I used to have, so long notes aren’t as long. It doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would.
I still sing in church sometimes, and someone came up to me recently and said, "You’ve still got it!" which was nice to hear. I’ve still got it, but not as much of it. When I thought about it, though, I realized that it’s a miracle of some kind that at age 65 I can still sing at all, and that it is meaningful for people to hear.
You see, music is the language that transcends all language, and it’s a powerful gift to have, singing, and if you’re called to sing, what are you going to do? You’re going to sing.
So – I guess I’ll keep singing, now and then, here and there, if I’m asked. Sorry about those exercises.