Monday, February 7, 2011

I wish I could sing

One of my earliest memories is of singing with my dad. He taught me to sing "I Will" by the Beatles. I stood by him, not quite his height, even as he sat at our keyboard. He pointed out my lyrics with one hand if I lost my way, while the other perpetuated the bass so the song could go on.

The song ends on a note that's both higher than the rest, and not quite intuitive. I had a hard time landing right on it. I was only 9 or so. Not wanting to disappoint my dad, who was so talented and happy to teach me, I recorded myself singing those last notes on my Talk Boy (made popular by Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2) and listened to it in bed, in the dark before I fell asleep. I tried to practice quietly, but more than once my late-night rehearsals would received the cease and desist order from one of my parents in the next room.

As I got older, and after many performances for family and church-members, I came to think of myself as quite the little singer. The enthusiasm that follows the performance of a small (er than average) blond girl known and loved by everyone in the room is often more than the performance warrants. I didn't know this.

It wasn't until my early teenage years that things began to change. My oldest brother, home from college, was telling me about how he'd picked up the bass and wanted to start a band. I asked if I could sing in the band. He told me that they would need someone with a more mature voice. I shrugged. I was young then. When I was older, of course, he's change his tune.

Then began a painful tradition. I began to sing with the family band. Every time I sang, though, my very supportive and well-intentioned mother would motion for me to bring the microphone closer to my face. Then, she would gesture to anyone near the PA head to turn my microphone up. After the song was done, she'd approach the stage and explain that no one could hear me. Someone would explain to her that I was turned up as high as could be. The next song would start and she would look at me with her eyes wide and her mouth open - exaggerated facial expressions that meant I should sing louder.

I couldn't sing any louder.

My mother wasn't the only one, either. There were other perplexed faces - furrowed brows of those trying to make out what it was that my mouth was doing behind the microphone. Apparently, as you grow older, as a singer, different things are expected of you, like a louder, stronger voice. I don't know where mine was, but no one seemed to believe that I wasn't hiding it. Why would I hide it? If a louder voice would stop the wide eyes that meant I was doing something wrong, I would have given anything for it.

By the time I went to high school, I had accepted that I really wasn't very good at singing after all. It was difficult to accept because I loved it so much. I may have stopped altogether - I certainly wanted to at times - if music weren't so inescapable in the DeConto household. We had a band. We were called upon at most family gatherings to perform.

This sounds like a sad story, but as I think about it, it was ultimately kind of liberating. To do something that you love to do with the belief that you're not in any way exceptional kind of frees you to enjoy it in a different way.

Like I said, I never really stopped singing. When I went off to college, I began to sing more. I learned to play the guitar. The family band started up again a couple of years later and I entered it with a different, more casual attitude. Funny thing, though, the more I sang and the more I performed, the better I became. Now, I think I love it more than ever, and have reclaimed it as an important part of who I am.

The downside of having experienced those years of resignation is that I may never really believe that I'm in any way exceptional (though it's so much fun for me now, I really don't care if I am or not). The upside, which, believe it or not, I find more valuable than the ability to think I'm awesome, is that I have come to attribute any success I have to confidence and experience, which are things in which anyone can invest. Now, when people say to me "I wish I could sing," I can say back to them, without hesitation, "You probably can."

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