What I didn’t mention is that I’ve also been studying voice.
I was quite the little songbird, as a kid: I sang in choirs through all of my school years, and in a couple of semi-pro ensembles. My choir directors loved that they could plug me—and my three-octave range—into any vacant spot.
But I never took any lessons, and I was always ashamed of my upper range. I could easily hit a high E (and if conditions were right, even a high G), but the tone was often less than pleasing. Like a hamster being stepped on. Or a rusty, squeaky hinge.
So I gradually stopped singing, and eventually I convinced myself that I didn’t have a pleasing voice.
Still, I came home from Paris singing Paul Simon’s The Boxer, Richard Thompson’s heartbreaking Bee’s Wing, Christy Moore’s In the City of Chicago. And, yes … Edith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien—my new personal anthem.
“I like my lower range just fine,” I told my teacher at the start of my first lesson. “But the upper half is too bright and warbly. Not great for karaoke night,” I joked. (She laughed, thank God.)
We did some warm-up exercises, and she confirmed what I knew: Once I move past the passaggio, I get tense, and I start to emit these horrible little strangled screams. Really not great for karaoke night.
But she told me not to worry about it. “We’ll work on that later,” she said. Each week, she sent me home with new exercises: Singing through the nose so I could feel my teeth vibrate; reflexive breathing; lifting the soft palate; dropping the jaw forward …
And each week, I could feel my voice changing a little bit. I felt stronger, more confident. But the upper half still sounded squeaky.
“I think it’s because you’re trying too hard to control the sound,” she said last night. “Just take a deep breath, and think ‘open.’ Lift your palate and push the sound forward. Don’t try to control the vibrato … just relax and let it flow.”
I took a deep breath, I followed her instructions, and I let ‘er rip. And for one brief shining moment, I produced a sound so rich and resonant—so powerful—that it seemed like someone else’s voice.
Here’s the thing, though: It wasn’t a karaoke voice. Unless you sing karaoke with Brunhilde …
But that’s OK. After years of trying so hard to control my voice, to make it sound like the pop stuff on the radio, I’m finally beginning to accept that it is what it is. And I feel so fortunate to have a teacher who is willing to coach me and guide me, to help me move past imitating others, and to help me make the most of the voice I have.
Bring on the Wagner.