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Blogathon for Tricia, Hour Seventeen: Music

January 9th, 2010 (09:06 pm)

For hour seventeen, aerinha asked that I write about music and my relationship to it, whether in terms of vocal performance or otherwise.

I'll tell you something stupid about me. For waaaaaaay too much of my life, I thought I was going to be a professional musician, on one level or another. I can't honestly tell you how I came by this idea. It made no sense. But I sure was hung up on it for awhile.

I've always had an affinity for music; that's not the point in question. From the time I was a toddler I was picking out melodies by ear on my little plastic Texas Instruments keyboard. Around age seven I started piano lessons, at which point I began to seriously annoy my teacher because I learned everything by ear and refused to read the music. Eventually I switched piano teachers and found someone who was a little more tolerant of my reluctance to learn most of the stuff I actually needed to be taught. Years later, I managed to combine sight-reading and playing by ear into a reasonably coherent skill, but nevertheless, even I wasn't stupid enough to think I'd ever be a great pianist.

What I thought I was going to be great at was singing. lol. It's true that I'm a better singer than a pianist, probably. It's likewise true that my voice teacher told me, when I was thirteen, that if I worked my ass off every living second between that moment and the time I turned twenty, I could probably be an opera singer as an adult. Like, in the chorus. The problem was that I missed a large portion of that sentence. The part that I heard was: "You can be a professional singer!"

Like I said: lol.

I did not work my ass off every living second between that moment and the time I turned twenty. I worked hard during my voice lessons, for a half an hour every week. And I sang in various choirs at school, but unfortunately this was not too terribly helpful as I believed that I was major hot shit -- way too good to pay attention to stuff like whether I might be pushing sharp (a chronic failing of mine, which I can curb if I pay attention to it, but...) or not. It didn't help that I'm a first soprano. Somehow I got the idea that the fact that I could hit a high C meant that I was basically the greatest high school vocalist in the country. Then one day one of my classmates who was in one of the more classical choirs pulled off a solo at Music Night that revealed that she could hit a high D, at least, and a hell of a lot better than I could hit any note. I crinkled my brow at this; I did not like being confronted with the fact that I was not the best soprano in history. But I wrote it off. I could still be pro, right?

Ahahahahaha. No.

To this day, I blush fire-red when I remember that I actually applied to the Boston Conservatory. They ran a joint program with Tufts and I figured I could graduate with first-rate double degrees in both English and vocal performance. You had to perform on at least two instruments (voice could count as one) to apply to the conservatory, so I dutifully put together a tape of myself singing and playing piano. Singing some stuff by Barber and Menotti, I think, and then I made a truly hilarious attempt at recording myself playing some piano solo by Bach that I had practiced for about a third of the amount of time that would have been required to get it right. I do not even remember how many mistakes I made in the version of the tape that I sent off. My piano teacher smiled kindly and told me that that was all right, they didn't expect me to have all the notes right. She was very kind, gentle, and abstracted in the last few months that I studied with her before I went off to college. She was no fool.

I got back my rejection from the conservatory, like, a month after I applied. Nothing daunted, I decided I was going to minor in music at Harvard. I ran into a problem when I found out they didn't have minors at Harvard. So I decided I would just take the upper-level music classes at Harvard. Again and again I encountered kind, gentle, abstracted instructors, none of whom allowed me into their classes. Odd. Very odd.

To be honest, in those moments here and there when I managed to ignore the ambition-tapeworm telling me I should do more more more more be the best best best ever, I had a very nice time performing at Harvard. I was in an a cappella group for awhile before I figured out that Ivy League a cappella groups are 1000% certifiably BATSHIT*, at which point I switched over to the Radcliffe Choral Society, where the director gave me far more credit than I deserved. He put me in as a first sop there too, except that I believe in that group -- this was a serious classical group -- that meant I was supposed to be able to hit like a high F. I meeped my way through a lot of soaring high notes there.

And then I graduated Harvard, and... well, and then what? And then nothing. I always thought I'd do church cantoring, but I never have, because I'm not good enough. Then I thought I might sing at coffeehouses and stuff, but I'm not good enough for that either. Basically, I am not good enough for anything that would involve me getting paid.

So I sing when I'm washing my dishes, and when I'm in the shower. As I've aged, I've lost a few notes off the top of my range -- not that it stops me from going for Joanne's high note in "Seasons of Love"; it just means that I squawk like a parrot. (No. Seriously. Ask λ. Like. A. Parrot. I need to stop.) I've gained a few on the bottom in compensation, but no one is really all that impressed by a girl who can sing like a laryngitic guy.

All in all, what I've figured out is: I'm pretty ordinary. I have a nice voice. I'll be good at singing my kids lullabies. I'll probably get back into amateur singing groups someday. Campfire singing, karaoke, all perfectly acceptable venues for me. It's just that I'm never going to be a star.

What the hell. I figure I sound damn good in the shower, as long as no one's listening.

*True story: I am fairly certain I know the guy on whom Andy Bernard of The Office was based. BJ Novak was a year ahead of us at school and traveled in roughly the same circle. If there wasn't one guy on whom Andy is based, I can guarantee you that I know several of the *guys* on whom he was based.

This is the hour seventeen post of my blogathon for my aunt Tricia, who is dying of end-stage ovarian cancer and whose family is being hit with a whole lot of bills that they can't afford alone as a result. Donations can be made at the link given above. A number of topics are still unclaimed and can be bought for $5 or more.


Posted by: Nathaniel Wolfthorn (ganimede)
Posted at: January 10th, 2010 11:59 am (UTC)

I love singing and I used to think I was quite good due to family and the like saying 'hey, you're quite good at singing'. I got into amateur dramatics, joined a group that did nothing but musicals and performed in several - proudest moment was when we did Evita at the request of Really Useful. Singing Lloyd Webber stuff is hard! I was never a soprano though, I was an alto so I never got to sing the interesting bits.

Then I started T and my voice broke. And I lost any singing ability I had. It was so hard for me because I couldn't even sing along to stuff on the radio, I'd be singing away but no sound would come out. I went from singing to absolutely everything to not singing at all. It's slowly coming back but it's taking a long time and now I've kind of got used to not singing which is extremely sad. I have no idea what kind of range I'm going to end up with, although I did manage to get all the high notes in Come What May from Moulin Rouge fairly recently so that gives me hope! I would be so amused if I end up as a tenor.

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