Diva Alert

WARNING: Two months from now I’m going to put on an evening gown and sing opera. Well, not a whole opera, just a couple of arias. And a duet. And some Italian art songs, because, you know, why not?

I’m dead serious about this. Consider yourself warned.

I used to be a singer, long ago, in high school. (Back in the nineteen-hundreds, as my friend’s little boy says.) I sang in the school chorus, the girls’ trio, the spring musical, the church choir, the car, the shower. When I was even younger, in the Pleistocene Era, I sang in bed after my mother tucked me in. I remember her coming back to the bedroom to shush me: “I’m glad you love to sing, honey, but it’s time to go to sleep now.” I worked out an ingenious way to cup my hands around my face so that I could sing very softly and still hear myself. It was an audiophile’s version of comic books and a flashlight under the covers. Forbidden music, after dark.

I sang a bit in college, but by my late twenties, I had stopped singing in front of other people. If my memory can be trusted (and it can’t; no-one’s can, but that’s another story), I gave up singing after seeing a production of Annie Get Your Gun at the Alliance Theatre. I wanted to be on that stage more than anything, and I was working on an internship that might get me there. I was determined not to blow my chances. The caliber of singing I heard that night was so much higher than anything I’d ever produced that I vowed I would never audition for a musical. The last thing I wanted to do was give a director a reason not to cast me. Better just to say, “I don’t sing.”

“I don’t sing.” I told that lie for years, until it became the truth.

I shoved the little girl who disobeyed her mother and kept singing after lights-out under a blanket of professional expediency. I became an actor. I didn’t sing, and because I didn’t, I found over time that I couldn’t. I lost whatever natural skill I’d had as a teenager, and I had no technique to replace it. The act of singing literally hurt my voice. I couldn’t sing hymns on Sunday morning without damaging my voice for the matinee that afternoon.

Training helped, but only so much. I had what the Freudians used to call a “block.” Lessons ended in tears. It wasn’t rational. I seemed equally afraid of freeing my voice and of losing it – or worse, of discovering I’d never had a decent voice to begin with. I’d give up after a few lessons, only to try and fail again with a different teacher a few years later.

But somewhere along the way my inner child rebelled, as children are wont to do, and I went looking for a counselor or a coach or someone who could help me reclaim my lost voice. I found Laura Biering, whose coaching business was called True Voices, and whose motto was, remarkably, “Be You Out Loud.”

Well. That sounded about right.

Say what you like about “Life Coaches” (shouldn’t we be able to live our lives without someone yelling instructions from the sidelines?), but Laura helped me. I won’t go into the things we unearthed; everybody has them. Mistaken beliefs from the past. Faulty assumptions about the future. Unfounded doubts about what’s possible right now.

Which brings us to the present. I’m working with a teacher I absolutely love. I’m doing a recital in January. I’m scared, but a lot less scared than I used to be. I’m even telling you about it, right here in this blog, and that means I can’t back out.

What’s more, I am going to wear an evening gown. And sing opera. Fair warning, friends. The Diva has come to town.

8 thoughts on “Diva Alert

  1. Carolyn, you inspire me every time you do pretty much anything. I used to sing, too, and I’ve told myself for years that “I’m not a singer”. I’ve lost my control and any technique I used to have, and I would love to get it back. I miss singing, but I never had any confidence in my voice. I hope one day to do as you have done. Thank you for sharing this journey!

  2. Carolyn, we’ve ended up having more things in common than just our birth surnames. My longtime companion was an opera coach at seventeen, which was an intimidating thing when we were in college together; how do you satisfy someone you’re so close to when you’re still learning, and they’ve already worked with Kiri te Kanawa? It made the stage fright I’d already developed, worse. It wasn’t until after his death some eighteen years later, that I went back to audit voice, and finally gave a classical performance he would be proud of. I’m working on my singing again, myself. It’s time to just sing. It does come back, much stronger than one might realize.And it’s sort of startling to realize the Italian never quite went away, even if I haven’t used it for half a life! Have a glorious time singing in your gown…

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