So a lot of people are asking me how my first voice lesson went…
First off, everything I’ve been doing is all wrong. I have not been using my actual head tone. My placement is off.
Which leads to the main shockers of the day. One, I’m a soprano. Two, I can belt. Of course, I have a very strong mezzo range, and my alto is still the infamous Frankie alto that had her in the running to be Enjolras once, but I can actually hit high notes. They sound weird right now…I guess because I’m not used to them.
According to Tita Jai, I have thick vocal cords, which makes for a different quality as a singer–no use comparing me to the standard Filipino soprano voice, really, because I’m not exactly the conventional soprano. The analogy is that I’m a diesel engine: it takes me longer to warm up than most, but I’ve got a lot of power. The trick is harnessing it–knowing what muscle groups to clench and where to direct my voice.
Initial practices have me singing parts of Love Never Dies, which is notoriously high for me but which, with some push and false starts, I can reach. And that, perhaps, is the biggest take away of the day for me–I’m not afraid of false starts. Where once I needed to be perfect every time, now I’m more comfortable having to try a few times before I get it right. Tita Jai’s mode of training gives you no choice–she keeps you singing and singing even when you want to stop because you sound so bad, and then suddenly…you don’t. By the end of our session, my high notes were unrecognizable from the half-baked screeching I would do when I tried to hit them before.
We’re rebuilding my voice from the ground up, really–figuring out my different placements, how high up I can go–but I’ve never been more excited. The crescendo came when Tita Jai had me sing my all-time favorite song, the much-abused audition piece “On My Own” from Les Misérables. While I didn’t get it right on the first try–missed the first few notes–on the next, I poured all my latent feels into the song and emerged, one failed belt attempt later, waiting for judgment. “I’m impressed,” Tita Jai said, “it wasn’t perfect, but I’m impressed.”
According to her, I’d managed to capture the point of singing–the emotion. And while I wasn’t technically that brilliant yet, I had potential. For a girl who has spent all her life singing second string to brilliant belter divas, potential is a powerful word. It’s a word that beats against the walls of insecurities I’ve erected over years of hating my voice and comparing it to everyone else’s. I have never really had faith in my capacity to sing–sure, I was competent, but I never thought I could be a star.
But now, now I am beginning to hope.
I’m not, by any means, a dynamo yet. I don’t want to think about how “good” I can be. Instead, I am fascinated by the power of hard work and a great teacher. I am realizing, more and more, that singers are not born but made–crafted by hands both gentle and firm, that mold them into what they eventually become. To be considered as having potential
is a blessing enough, because it means I don’t have to be afraid of trying.
I remember my first devastating YouTube comment. It was a duet video with my friend, and the commenter–a user neither of us knew, but such is the nature of YouTube–while lauding my friend’s work, basically said I was awful. It’s been something that’s haunted me ever since. I’ve lived my musical life needing to be perfect on the first try, embarrassed when I am not, because I am terrified that people will think just like that commenter–that I am not as good as my friends, or the people around me. That I am just a second-string singer.
Apparently, I am. But I don’t always have to be. And while this lesson was hard because it has basically established that I have to re-learn singing (in a few days, really–Saigon auditions start registration on the 17th), I have never been so exhilarated to be wrong. Now that I am wrong, I know there is a right, and with a right means a possibility that what has eluded me for so long–to hear myself become part of the music–is within my reach.
So thank you, thank you so much Tita Jai. I have learned more today than in the years and years of voice lessons I’ve had, combined. Most of all, thank you for giving me the courage to hope–to try even if it seems a bit hazy, because I’ll never know until I do.