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How the Fat Lady Got Her Groove Back

Dreams come true together


On January 14, 2011, I hired an expert to tell me I couldn’t sing.

I’d given up singing ten years before that. If you take last week’s post and replace dance with music, that was me. I spent my teenage years and two semesters as a voice performance major thinking, “I love singing! I don’t think I’m that bad. But if I’m not bad, why doesn’t anyone act the least bit encouraging? If I’m not bad, surely a choir director would be willing to give me a solo at some point, and they never have. Maybe they’re just letting me sing the high soprano parts out of pity.”

And so on. I was bullied as a kid and had seriously low self-esteem, so I depended entirely on external validation. With no self-confidence of my own, and a career to figure out, I just gave up. Switched my major to English my sophomore year of college and moved right along with my life.

I came up with all sorts of “reasons” why I wasn’t and would never be any good at singing. I had allergies, so I’d never be able to breathe correctly. I didn’t have perfect pitch, and everyone with any real potential has perfect pitch. My parents’ piano was slightly out of tune, and surely it had ruined my ear. The scholarship I’d won in a high-school voice competition? Well, they wanted students to attend their college, so they just gave it out to anyone they knew was interested. Et cetera.

And increasingly, as I hit my late twenties, the reasons included “too fat” and “too old.”

A few years ago, we got a Wii. I promptly bought the game Endless Ocean because it looked pretty. It was indeed pretty, and soothing, and if you like relaxing games you’ll love it. (There’s also a sequel!) What grabbed me most, though, was the soundtrack. The opening song for the game is this one, and it’s possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.

The Internet told me the artist who’d done the soundtrack was someone named Hayley Westenra. Turns out she’s an international classical crossover star with this incredible, incredible voice. I fell in love and bought every mp3 I could get my hands on. Not only was her music gorgeous, but it felt right when I sang it, too. 

That started me thinking about singing again. I kept thinking about it, and thinking about it, and thinking about it. It was driving me nuts. So I looked up local voice teachers and called one at random so I could get some closure on the music thing and move on with my life again. My hands shook when I made the call, and I babbled about how I knew I wasn’t any good, but just wanted to make sure. She was very gracious, but I’m sure she thought I was a complete nutcase.

Going to that trial lesson was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’d brought a small stack of old repertoire lists and sheet music and choral programs; what I thought the teacher would want with them I don’t know. She looked through them politely and set them aside, and then tested my range and tone with scales.

She played higher and higher on the piano, and I sang higher and higher. And higher. I’m sure we did some other exercises and tests that evening, but it’s all a blur now. The only thing I really remember from that lesson is that teacher telling me that no, I do actually have talent. A lot of it. And I can sing really, really high; in fact, that’s my strong point.

I didn’t entirely believe her, but I was hooked again. I faithfully went to lessons every week and practiced (almost) every day, but I don’t think I’d have been able to make it onto the stage at that first recital if it weren’t for two things: my teacher’s patient encouragement and the massive self-confidence boost I’ve had over the last few years from learning to accept and love my body.

Here’s a recording from that very first recital:

I never did figure out why those choir directors and music teachers and other authority figures never encouraged me. Maybe they thought I already knew I had talent. Maybe they didn’t care. It doesn’t matter now.

Not only am I a singer, I am a fucking opera singer. It’s a new day, baby.