Thursday, April 21, 2022

My Singing Journey

Part of working through my anxiety when singing by myself in front of people is determining what caused the anxiety in the first place - so here's how that was discovered, along with how MS is part of what is "My Singing Journey." It's another one of those very personal things I'm sharing, mostly because writing about this stuff somehow seems to help me.

Like most kids, I had music class in elementary school. Outside of school, I played the piano, starting when I was 6. Music class in school was really easy for me since I already knew notes, rhythms, etc. I loved learning how to play the recorder. I loved the small amount of singing we did. I loved our December holiday singing concert. I loved performing.

My older brother had been in the school choir and it was probably assumed that, just like him, when I could be in choir, I would. One day, our teacher decided we would have choir auditions, in class. I was a painfully shy kid, but music was my thing, so this audition was not a big deal. The teacher played a brief series of notes on the piano, and then 5 kids or so individually sang those notes back to her, one kid at a time. Then she played another series of notes for the next group of 5 kids. I was the second or third kid in my group. My friend went right before me, but my friend started on the wrong note. And then I repeated exactly what my friend did, starting on the wrong note, instead of singing what the teacher had played. I knew immediately what I had done. I didn't say anything. I was a kid. I remember feeling confused and then mortified. How embarrassing to sing the wrong notes. I didn't make the choir. That was the end of me singing for the most part. I learned to play the flute in addition to the piano, and over time told people I couldn't sing (all because of those few wrong notes). Ouch. 

This is where MS comes into play in a very strange way. Years later, in college, I was having trouble running. At the same time, I was also having trouble feeling my fingers. I remember my flute teacher  made an off-hand comment once: "you're falling apart." Ouch. Besides her badly-timed comment, no one connected the running problems with the feeling problems, including me. I went to one neurologist for my running problems, and a completely different neurologist for the lack of feeling in my fingers problem. Once I was diagnosed with MS, everything made sense. At the same time, all of this was devastating. I wasn't going to be able to run like I wanted; I wasn't going to be able to play the flute like I wanted; I wasn't going to be able to play the piano as I had done in the past. I was 20. My college physician had asked me, before I was diagnosed with MS, "what would you do if you could no longer run?" And now add to that list flute and piano. Ouch. Music has always been an important part of my life. 


Could I sing?


Singing became the possibility for me continuing to perform music. I had actually joined the (non-audition) community choir my sophomore year of college since I wasn't able to run on the cross-country team. I already had a start to singing. But what about that frightened 10 year old who was so embarrassed and mortified that she had missed the notes? She was still there. And I needed more music.

I returned home after my sophomore year of college and took voice lessons. I then returned to college in the fall and auditioned for the select Chamber Singers acapella choir. What do I remember? I remember being terrified - I don't remember what I sang, how I sang, and I had no idea how I sounded. But somehow this terrified student made the choir, sang with the choir for a year, re-auditioned, again terrified with no memories of how it went, and sang in the choir for my senior year. I got to sing every day. Despite the terrified 10 year old who showed up for auditions, I got to perform. 

After college, I auditioned for a number of choirs, and somehow made it into most of them. But at each audition, the terrified 10 year old showed up, and she only got more terrified with time. People can't sing their best when this is happening - some nervousness is good but this level is not. Since before my daughter was born, I stopped auditioning. It was too much.

Since I didn't have to audition for the college reunion choir, I returned a few years ago to sing there. I recorded myself. Ouch. I really hope I sounded better than that in college. I returned home and gradually started singing lessons again. I have done a few auditions. The terrified 10 year old has shown up to each one (but I didn't realize she existed until very recently). She won't leave and it's been frustrating.

Recently I've been exploring all of this, starting with identifying the problematic terrified 10 year old. It's exhausting to explore this stuff and recall the stellar time when a few missed notes stopped me from singing for at least 10 years. Yikes and ouch. At the same time, this exploring has been very helpful. I've been told that I need to take the 10 year old with me on my musical solo experiences... but not the terrified 10 year old. I'm supposed to bring the free and fun 10 year old who did exist. Standing between her and the adult me is something called "the protector." The protector says, "Oh no - I'm not letting this happen - No way - here is the terrified 10 year old - FREEZE!!" 

We worked through an example of this today. It's amazing how quickly the protector shows up, but the protector has had years to perfect their role. It went something like this:

Coach: "I'd like you to sing the gibberish version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." 

Me: You want me to do _what_?" (Freeze - see how quickly that happened?)

Coach: "First you have to breathe."

(I take a breath)

Coach: "Now imagine yourself singing this on stage."

(I can see myself doing this with no problem.)

Coach: "Now can you say you are ready?"

Me: Pause. "I guess so."

Coach: "You have to say it."

Me: Long pause. (I think the protector is really trying to stop this whole thing.) "I'm ready."

Coach: "Ok, now the curtain is about to go up. Here is Beth, singing the gibberish version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

Me: Freeze. "You're serious? You want me to actually sing it?" 

I can't believe this is actually happening... he is serious?!

Coach: "Introducing Beth, singing the gibberish version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."

Me: "Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are." 

No terror there.

And that, friends, is where I am on this journey, with so much work to do.

But I am making progress.

And, for the record, I am not going to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for anyone else in that random way. 

Also for the record, I can now play the flute and piano again - nothing like in high school - but it's been a long time, so that's ok. I can feel my fingers again.


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