It started, as most self improvement does, with a slightly cutting comment.
Me, happily plucking my ukulele and warbling vintage Hall and Oates: “You make my dreams come true, OOH OOH OOH OOH OOOH OOH!”
My husband: “Maybe you should stick to songs in your range.”
Still my husband (even after he said that): “Well, I mean no one can really sing that. That’s why Hall and Oates are Hall and Oates.”
I said nothing at the time, just tucked it away, but I proceeded to learn how to play that Rick Astley classic “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The lesson here: Don’t cross a bitter, amateur ukulele player. Every once in awhile, I play a few bars and then listen to him whistle it for the rest of the evening because it’s stuck in his head. Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Revenge is best served with plinky chords.
Still, that comment really stuck in my craw, which maybe is why I can’t hit those high notes.
It bothered me because I really would like to be able to sing, always have, ever since I was 6 years old and practicing to be a Miss America contestant, draped in a pink baby blanket “evening gown” and playing the two strings left on the banjo my dad bought on a whim but never learned to play and so my brother and I gleefully strummed it to death.
I decided it was finally time to do something about it and…take singing lessons.
Now, I am well aware of my vocal limitations. In high school, I played Aunt Eller in “Oklahoma!” in a triple-cast musical and the band teacher loved me most out of all the Aunt Ellers — but he listened to honking horns all day. At my wedding, there was a, um, musical number because that’s how I roll. We had a band, which helps hide an inferior voice since live music is so loud. I belted out “My Guy” to the tune of “My Girl” while my bridesmaids dutifully did their choreographed shuffle behind me. When we got off the stage, my dad said, “I was really surprised because I didn’t think you could sing and then I realized the lead singer was backing you. Now she’s got a voice.”
So, I started poking around and found a vocal teacher. I take virtual lessons from the back of the Subaru, which adds a certain element of danger because you never know when the FedEx driver is going to come up the driveway with a package and think an injured cat is trapped inside the car.
It’s been a month or so and I still haven’t been nominated for a Grammy, but turns out I’m kind of a prodigy. Most people have a two-and-half-octave range — I can hit three. In theory. I can’t consistently do it.
Learning new things as an adult is hard, especially when you’ve spent years doing everyday tasks, like breathing and talking, completely wrong. Good thing I don’t embarrass easily because I have been doing some weird stuff to try and engage my CricoThyroid, or CT, muscle, which will allow me to hit higher octaves. I sit there trying to talk in a British accent (“Oooooooooh DEEEEEEEEaaaaaaar!) and make my face go slack. My teacher, Cynthia, works hard, trying to give me cues that’ll help me get the hang of for-real singing, but nothing’s really clicking. Everything feels so weird and awkward. Then Cynthia suggested something that I absolutely could relate to and understand.
“This is gross,” she said, “but imagine you’re throwing up, think about how open your throat is…”
Well, I’m a super puker, always have been. My gag reflex is so strong that just her saying that made me feel choked. Now, every time I open my mouth to sing, that image is there and my eyes start to water and I feel like I have to hold in breakfast. I think seeing someone, shoulders hunched, trying not to throw up would not play well on one of those TV talent shows. Or maybe it would.
Either way, singing is frustrating and I’m not sure how this is gonna go.
Fast forward to a day after my gag-me-with-a-CT muscle-lesson, and I’m driving my son to an appointment and the Christmas tunes are fired up on Spotify. The first few notes ring out and No. 3 and I belt in unison:
“Iiiiiiiiii don’t want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I neeeeeeeeeeeed…”
So there we were, screeching “All I Want for Christmas” and yeah, Mariah Carey would have cringed to hear us, and while it may have sounded very half-assed, it was full of whole-ass joy. Did we hit all the notes? Nope. Did the windows rattle? A little. It didn’t matter if we sounded pitchy because it was fun, the two of us singing together. And maybe that’s all that counts.