When I was in the Sixth Grade we had a Christmas musical. Our music teacher required each and every sixth grader (there were maybe seventy-five of us) to audition for a solo part in the production.
I diligently studied the lyrics to the different songs in the musical. On the day of my audition I stood before my peers, so nervous that I was actually shaking, and gave a wobbly performance of a verse from one of the songs I’d worked so hard to learn.
I was disappointed when I didn’t get one of the solo parts. The kids who were chosen had really nice voices. There were lots of children who didn’t get to be in the spotlight which made me feel a little better.
Then the music teacher asked me to stay after class one day and I just knew she’d made a mistake and now had a part for me. She told me that she had noticed how I knew ever single word to every single song in the production. She wondered if I would like to be the choir conductor who directs the Christmas choir in the town square.
I was thrilled!
Then she shared more about my role. She didn’t want me to sing the words at all, but to just mouth them really big just in case any of the kids in the choir forgot the words. She made sure to tell me several times to NOT SING. Plus, I would need to wear an old lady skirt and ratty sweater with a pillow shoved up it to make me look plump and top it all off with a gray wig.
I left her room and went into the bathroom and cried. I knew then that I was a really awful singer – bad enough that the music teacher needed to shut me up so her musical would sound good. I got up and did what she asked. I never uttered a sound out loud. And I felt very ashamed.
That one moment in my life has defined my relationship with music for years. I’ve always been a silent observer and deep appreciator of those with musical talent, never able to overcome the fear of singing in front of others. I can recall specific instances where groups of friends in high school or college were singing for whatever reason and I flat out refused to participate. Whenever I have been asked to sing in a large group choral situation (usually at church), I just get up and mouth the words to the song. It probably didn’t help that I grew up with two brothers who have beautiful singing voices.
It is sad to me that this one woman who held a position of trust and authority over me did so much to damage my self esteem in the music department. I’m forty-one and I still think about the pain it caused me. Maybe it would have been more helpful if she’d used her knowledge to teach me to be a marginal instead of horrible singer or just let me blend in with the other sixty kids who were singing.
Last week at my husband’s family reunion we held our big iPod Idol night. I have never participated with his family due to my fear of singing in public. This year was no different. I had absolutely no intention of getting up there and making a fool of myself. Then suddenly in the middle of all the crazy bad singing, something came over me and I just decided, WHO CARES? These people love me. I can laugh with them and be okay if they laugh at me. No one sounds good when they have big old ear phones on and are trying to sing over really loud music.
And then I sang my heart out.
(Royals, by Lorde, in case you were wondering.)