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Singing Since Five
It all started in kindergarten when I was five; the kindergarten musical. That was the first time I sang. After that, I walked around singing all day. I would sing aloud when I walked. I would sing to my teacher and she would smile. I wouldn’t stop. It was entertaining to me. I loved it. I loved the way it felt. I loved the way it sounded. I loved the way my parents seemed so impressed. But most importantly, I was singing for myself – for my own entertainment. I would just close my eyes and open my mouth and no one else in the world would exist.
It continued to first grade when I was six; the first shift. That was when things began to change. When I walked around singing all day, I realized people would turn and stare at me. When I went to sing to my teacher, she would get uncomfortable and turn me away. Why wouldn’t she smile? I realized I had to stop. Even though it was entertaining to me. Even though I loved it. Even though I loved the way it felt. Even though I loved the way it sounded. No one wanted to hear it. Suddenly, when I sang, the world existed – and it was telling me to stop.
I still sang, of course, just not loud enough for the world to hear. If it doesn’t want to hear me then I’ll just wait until it does, I thought. And when it does, the world will love me. The world doesn’t understand! It doesn’t understand the feeling I have when I sing! No one does. Of course it doesn’t want to listen! But one day it will. I know that one day it will. And when the world is ready to listen, I will be ready to sing.
Now, I thought I was the only person who could make the sounds I made. I thought I was the first person that felt what I felt. I truly thought I was the best singer that had ever existed – not out of arrogance, but out of youthful ignorance. I told my parents how I felt. They laughed said singing wasn’t something you do but something you learn – something you train in. I smiled and said I was ready to learn, thinking to myself I just want to get the world to hear me sing– to feel how I feel. For no one else in the world knows. The world needed to hear me sing. How I felt when I sang was how I wanted to world to feel when they listened. I wanted the world to be entertained by what I do for my own entertainment. I believed it to be my duty.
I started training; waiting for the day I could bless the world with my voice. I was so young – only ten. I wasn’t egotistical – I truly believed my voice would bless the world. But the more I learned the harder it all became. Suddenly there were black dots above the register that were harder to sing. Suddenly my breaths weren’t long enough. Suddenly I had to shake my voice to have something called vibrato. Suddenly just closing my eyes and opening my mouth wasn’t enough.
Six years of studying went by and singing was still entertaining to me. I still loved the way I sounded, but only when I identified that I was singing on key. I still loved the way it felt, but only when I identified that I was getting enough breath support. I still loved when my coach would acknowledge my practicing or commend me on my improvements. Singing was no longer just a hobby – it was a technical skill. I was getting better, she told me. And she recommended somewhere I could go. Somewhere the world would listen to me.
It appeared in the summer of two thousand and six when I was twelve; my first summer at theater camp. That was the first time I went somewhere where other people were just like me. Everyone walked around singing all day. Everyone would walk up to teachers and sing to them and the teachers would smile. They wouldn’t stop. They loved the way it sounded. They loved the way it felt. They loved the way everyone always seemed so impressed. When everyone sang, they sang to be heard by the world – all they wanted was for the world to listen – just like me.
My first summer was brilliant; I felt more at home that I had anywhere else. I befriended those older than me and they took me under their wings. When I sang they smiled. They thought I was adorable. They said I had a beautiful voice. They thought it was impressive for my age. For the first time I wasn’t the only person who could make the sounds I made. I wasn’t the only person who felt how I felt. And that was enough. I wasn’t alone, we were a group. And this group was the world I needed – my new world that would listen to me when I sang.
But it all went wrong in the summer of two thousand and nine when I was fifteen. Approaching my late teens, I was no longer seen as a young child in the eyes of my new world. As my voice grew more mature, I was now accidentally in competition with my older friends. It was no longer enough to be “good for my age,” for I was no longer a child. I was at the level of the rest of the world. The world I once so longed to bless with my voice began to scare me. I had lost my naïveté.
It was that summer when I first stopped singing and started listening. I listened to the world I now belonged to. And what I heard was beautiful. So beautiful. Too beautiful. It was all so beautiful that I felt for the first time my own sound was not enough; I was not enough. The thing I always thought set me apart from the rest of the world was no better than the voices of my friends. There was always someone who could sing higher. There was always someone with a stronger middle. There was always someone with faster vibrato. There was always someone who was better. The power I thought I had was no different from the rest of the world.
I knew too much about singing. I could identify my flaws. I never really thought about it before. I knew I wasn’t a perfect singer. But I never felt flawed. I still loved how it felt to sing but it didn’t sound good enough. I wasn’t the only person who made the sounds I made. I wasn’t the only person who felt what I felt. I wasn’t the best singer that ever existed. There was always someone who was better.
I wished I knew nothing. I wished I could go back to closing my eyes and opening my mouth and forgetting about the world. But now, when I closed my eyes, the ground stayed put underneath my feet. My rock of confidence had crumbled and I laughed at the girl who thought her voice would bless the world.
But something else happened at the end of that summer, after I had performed in a musical in which my character, who was 35 and had teenage children, sang most of the songs. In my desire to go back to how I felt in kindergarten, I realized what had changed. It wasn’t that I had learned too much. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough. It was that there was suddenly an audience. I didn’t start singing in order to affect the world. I didn’t start singing so the world could hear my voice. I started singing because I love it – it entertains me. Suddenly I was singing to please people. I had forgotten how to sing for myself.
It was only when I remembered what characterized my innocence that I was able to find joy in singing again. When I sing I feel something special. Sometimes I need a little encouragement. But I sing because I love it. I think now I can go forward. I will forever sing aloud when I walk. I will forever sing to my teachers, though perhaps not in the same way I did at five. But I will never stop. I will love how it feels. I will love how it sounds. But stray as I may sometimes do, I will always strive to feel I am singing for myself.