How I found my singing voice

When I told my husband I was taking singing lessons, he looked at me with eyebrows raised. “Really?”

You know the tone. He didn’t mean it in the way of happy astonishment. He meant it more as sarcastic wonderment.

This from a man who has joined me singing along to many a classic hit during our road trips to see my youngest at college. And, frankly he’s no Harry Connick, Jr.

So, I ignored him as one must always do when confronting naysayers.

I was embarking on a mission in search of more joy. Some might remember that I wrote about this quest a few weeks back and promised I would write occasionally about how it’s all going. I’ve titled this little irregular series “Joyride.”

I’ve set off on this mission because this past year I have been feeling especially laden with the heaviness of my life’s baggage. I know my trials and tragedies are similar to those we all face, but I have been wanting to lift my soul a little bit.

I made a vow to myself to start doing things that made me feel the energy and spirit of joy more often. Not the kind of joy that makes you hum pleasantly with your lips turned up a bit at the corners. The kind of joy that makes you want to throw your head back and laugh out loud with a huge burst of energy that makes you grateful to be alive.

And so I started singing lessons.

I signed up with Lisa Surace of Bravo Studios at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center in Niagara Falls, NY.

And over a series of classes, under her guidance and a wide variety of vocal retooling, I remembered what it feels like to be exuberantly, youthfully joyful in song.

It has been a long, long time since I’d felt that way.

When I was a child, everyone told me I had a beautiful singing voice. It was praise that felt like warm sunshine to me. And so I sang a lot.

In third grade, to my amazement, I won the part of the angel Gabriel, in my Catholic school Christmas play.  I can still remember the confidence and pride I felt, standing before an audience dressed in angel wings, lit by the glow of the spotlights, singing “Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy.”

Sadly, it wasn’t long after that when the song in my heart went silent.

I was in music class that same year and my teacher was lining up the girls and boys on the risers to sing.

“OK, she said brightly. “All you sopranos go up to the top tier.”

I moved to take a step up with all the other little girls when my teacher put a hand up to stop me and said, “Oh, no, Michele, your voice is very deep so you stay down here with the boys.”

So, I stayed down on the first tier with the boys, painfully embarrassed by the revelation that I had a little boy’s voice.

It’s funny how such silly little memories can color someone’s whole life, but I pretty much stopped singing that day. Any sense I had that my voice was special or lovely, drained away like a glass of spilled water.

Until I began taking singing lessons. My teacher, Lisa Surace, taught me how singers breathe — and put a live microphone in front of me so I could sing along to some of my favorite tunes. Carole King. Mamma Cass. I sang into that mic and felt myself fill with the joy of the sound of my own amplified voice. Not that it was particularly beautiful. Just that it was still there.

It was payback to me, I think, for taking a step forward. Sure it cost some money I really didn’t have. Sure it cost me time I didn’t have. But I have found myself a warm-hearted new teacher who thinks my voice is “bright.”

I don’t know what that means exactly but it sounds nice, even if my husband said that it’s like saying someone is “interesting,” without calling them “weird.”

I ignored him, as one must always do, when confronting naysayers.

Because now, I have found a voice I thought was long lost to me. And that is a joy. Not all day and not every day, but often enough to remind me that it was still there inside of me, like a tiny ember waiting to be fanned.

Originally printed in the Niagara Gazette

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