Last weekend, I participated in my voice teacher’s summer showcases. I’ve been taking from her off and on for the better part of 13 years (I don’t want to think about that number too hard), and I’ve grown a tremendous amount from where I was when I started as a high school freshman. Not just vocally. Miss Kaye emphasizes not just the music but the performance, the emotional investment in the song, the connection.
Ever since I started with Miss Kaye, Miss Ida, a retired theater teacher with distinguished alumni, joined up with her during showcase preparation as an acting coach to help the students connect to the songs on an emotional level. A month ago, Miss Ida passed away after a chronic illness, and I was very disappointed that she didn’t get to see what we did this summer. I especially wanted to show her “On the Steps of the Palace” from Into the Woods, because it was my first character song. However, her legacy continues through Rebecca, who had been Miss Ida’s theater student when she was still working and has been taking from Miss Kaye longer than I have.
I’ll never forget how Miss Ida taught me how to pull what was inside of me out. I’m an introvert, very internally focused. I had the connection (and with time and emotional turmoil, it’s grown deeper and richer), but it has taken many years for me to learn how to make it show. I credit Miss Ida and Miss Kaye for helping this introvert come out of her shyer shell and overcome the typical teenage self-consciousness of making a fool of oneself. I think the turning point was giving a monologue and singing “Candle in the Window” from The Civil War at one of the showcases – if you put a gun to my head, I think it was my high school senior year. That was my first acting song, although not quite as character as OTSotP, and it was a challenge. .That was a particularly good year for the acting side of the showcase, I remember.
Miss Ida always used to say that I didn’t say much when she worked with me, but she always knew that I would take her advice and really process it and come back the next week better prepared to show improvement. I just needed time.
During this year’s showcase, I was amazed at how far some of the students had come, and I was also cognizant of my own progress. One of the hardest things for me to do isn’t the singing or even the connecting as much anymore. It’s feeling comfortable moving around without being self-conscious and it’s the speaking between songs that we have to do.
Over the years, I’ve gone from somewhat stilted explanations and memorization to realizing that doesn’t work for me. I have to be just as emotionally naked in the speaking bits as in the singing bits, which is kind of scary but also liberating. Memorization sucks the life out of my dialogue because I’m so concerned about getting it absolutely right. So instead, I have subjects I want to talk about and a general idea of the phrasing, but the trick is to view it as a conversation (which is easier) rather than a speech (which is hard). Everything sounds a lot more natural that way. I’ve also discovered that my dry humor tends to emerge when I make it a conversation.
And movement. I feel so much freer than I used to. I’m still not strutting the stage or anything, but I’m also not doing chicken wings or dinosaur arms (where you only move your forearms and keep your elbows close to your sides), which a lot of people do. At its foundation, the fear of movement is a fear of taking up space and looking stupid, but I’ve found as I get older that I’m more willing to look and sound foolish as long as I look and sound real. I suspect that’s a post-adolescent thing, because after a while a person discovers how exhausting it is to be that self-conscious all the freaking time. Heck, I even danced a little during Patti LaBelle’s “New Attitude,” pitch problems and all (which I’m going to attribute to the dryness of the piano studio – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). Yeah, I got a laugh, but I laughed along with it, so it wasn’t foolish.
One of the things that I talked about between songs was how writing has changed my life. I’ve been writing seriously for ten years, but it’s only in the last two years that I’ve written in earnest (and started this blog). And I realized upon doing so that I should have started a lot earlier.
My teenage years were relatively okay, which I attribute to my IB classes, which meant I was surrounded by people just as nerdy and devoted to school as I was. My young adulthood stunk, and I’m really disappointed that I didn’t get to enjoy my college years more because of it. There was no particular reason for the change. Separation anxiety was a trigger, but mostly I suspect I went through (and continue to go through) many of the things that most people get out of their systems during their adolescence (which is probably why a lot of people are miserable during that time). I developed trichotillomania. I suffered (and continue to deal with) sudden shifts in major personal identities that I couldn’t control and actively resisted, to the misery of all.
I have a number of creative things that I do to keep myself happy. Singing is a major one. Without my voice, even if just in the privacy of my car 363 days out of the year, I’d be lost. I also make jewelry, although writing has knocked that to the side more than I’d like. But the disciplined writing seemed to be the most important piece of the puzzle, because it reaches so many levels of my brain. Things aren’t perfect by any means, and now that I’ve been in a major depression for many years before, I know how easy it is to sink back. I still have issues with my identity, and I’m still struggling after three and a half years in court reporting school. But even though writing may never make me more than pocket change for the rest of my life, all the time, effort, energy, and sacrifice that it has required and will require is totally worth it for the fulfillment it gives me.
I’ve also learned how to use my writing to improve my real life. For instance, if I’m nervous about getting up and singing in front of people – or worse, speaking in front of them – I draw instead upon my stronger or more confident characters that I’ve written and imagine how they would take on that challenge. And suddenly – like the Fitzgerald quote above says – I realize that was in me the whole time.
Now, considering the kinds of things that I write, it can be a little scary that I have all the characters I’ve written and will write inside of me. My identity issues also make a lot more sense, with all the voices I have in my head. But not only can I derive strength and confidence from my characters, I can also draw from their personal experience if I haven’t had the pleasure or misfortune of experiencing it myself. How I can write my characters’ experiences when I haven’t experienced them myself, well, that’s one of the mysteries of the universe, but I seem to do okay.
I did that this year with Celine Dion’s “I Surrender” (the song that let my diva flag fly high). When I heard it at the beginning of the summer, I didn’t think, “Oh, I totally connect with that.” Instead, I thought, “Oh, my MC in my fairy tale remix novel totally connects with that.” And of course, I wrote FTR2 this summer, so when I was rehearsing it, I was in her headspace a good portion of the time. Of my three songs, that was the easiest to sink into.
In general, most of my creative endeavors, no matter how frivolous they seemed, have helped me. Singing has imbued me with confidence and taught me to be emotionally vulnerable (still working on that). Making jewelry has not only let me express my personal aesthetic and create writing talismans, but it’s taught me how to keep track of finances and deal with the business side of creativity, even though by all business standards, it has failed. (It was supposed to be a self-sustaining hobby, and it is, but the state and federal government doesn’t care about intentions. If you sell it, it’s a business and must be treated as such.)
And writing has not only taught me how to express myself in a coherent and pleasant-to-read way, it has aided in that emotional vulnerability and gives me so many tools for the real world that I never believed I had.