Finding my voice

By Michelle Dee | Jan 29, 2011

Singing is a sign of contentment, they say. I remind myself of that when my husband starts to sing Motown songs, rewriting the words as he goes. He is so happy in those moments as rhythm seems to spark and tingle all through his body. It is that rhythm that helps him clean the house much faster, so who am I to complain? Still, I must draw the line when he breaks out into a giddy rendition of “Hey, Hey We’re the Monkeys” just as I am settling into bed at night. That is one tune that is not so easily conquered by REM sleep.

When we were first living together, I would only sing to him in bed when the lights were out. How did it come to be that I love to sing but somehow feel embarrassed when doing so in front of anyone? With childlike reasoning, I figured I can’t get embarrassed in the dark where no one can see me. As years passed, I developed the ability to sing in front of my husband when we were in the car, with him driving and having to look at the road and not at me.

I have never had any musical training or any kind of voice lessons. When I was a teenager, I sat crooning in the back seat of our car with headphones on and hooked into the no-name brand version of the Sony Walkman that I got for my birthday. My mother whipped around from her shotgun position in the front seat and snapped “You’re tone deaf, so stop singing!”

About 12 years later I would find myself arriving 30 minutes early to an audition for a musical. I knew the director and thought she would oblige me. I came early so I could try out before anyone else was there, so I wouldn’t embarrass myself.

I was given a tune to perform and I gave it my best shot. My notes spiked and bounced all over the auditorium. I can’t remember if I stopped myself or if Candy, the director, stopped me, but I do remember that we were both chuckling at my efforts. She suggested that I sing the Happy Birthday song. I decided to sing a vamped up version of it, like Marilyn Monroe did for President Kennedy. (Honestly! Who did I think I was?) I knew I could sing it without piano accompaniment and I felt sure I wouldn’t freeze up and forget the words. So, again, I gave it all I had. And again, Candy, the pianist, and I shared a friendly giggle.

Candy asked me to try it once more but with the music. This time she asked me to really belt it out so that the imaginary audience member in the back row could hear me over the piano. My total lack of musical training was painfully obvious. She thanked me for auditioning, and in the most supportive way, she gave me her reason for not casting me: My voice was simply not strong enough for stage singing. Perhaps, my embarrassment at singing in front of people was also somewhat of an issue when it came to performing in a musical.

So, I never performed any solos on stage, but I do know of that feeling of contentment that comes with singing. It happens when I’m all alone in my kitchen or in my woodshop, and I can just let go. I sing along to some of my favorite female vocalists…. Bonnie Raite, Neko Case, Nora Jones, Macy Grey, Patsy Cline, Ricki Lee Jones, KD Lang. I experiment with all kinds of ranges. I love the way my whole entity responds... my lips, tongue, throat, lungs, my breath, arms, gut, hips, my feet. I feel an energy pour out of me that seems to lift me up and fill me with a simple sense of joy. It is like nothing else I know.

I saw a sticker once that read: “Life is a song. Sing it!” And so I sing to find my voice, no matter if it’s in key or off key. I find it nonetheless.

Michelle Dee is a writer who lives in Camden.

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