Strange little girl,
sung from her first exhale.
The world, it doesn’t make sense,
but the notes on a scale–
–well, they run up and down,
in predictable lines.
So long as she can sing them,
she’ll be fine.
Tonight, we went to the birthday party of my mum’s cousin.
As a kid, before I started in the “band scene,” I used to jump at any opportunity to sing in front of an audience. Often, this meant rockaoke at parties, or else hijacking the microphone from friendly live bands in cafés and bars. Barring that, I would sing everywhere: in the shower, in the hallways at school, in the car, in the street. Literally everywhere.
I had a love-hate relationship with my voice. On the one hand, I liked hearing it (obviously). On the other hand, I never felt it was good enough. My earliest performances were often ruined by my nerves, which robbed me of air and strangled my notes in my throat. It was like this up until college: I simultaneously craved live gigs and feared them as opportunities to fall short.
I nearly lost my voice when I was twenty. For one reason or another, I got vocal nodules, and had to go on two weeks of vocal rest, followed by three months of therapy. There was no guarantee, throughout the whole process, that I would ever get my voice back, but thanks to Ms. Kitchy Molina, I not only got it back, but returned with a healthy three-octave range and the ability to sometimes belt. I could finally sing Elphaba’s parts in Wicked.
Instead, I joined a rock band.
“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” That’s how the song For Good goes. It fits what rock and roll life was like for me. For better or worse, I was changed. My first gig was horrible: I barely had any stamina to make it through a three-song set. But through years and gigs and rehearsals and setlists that stretched my range, I learned. On our EP Launch Concert, I scream-belted my way through six high-octane songs and still had a voice to speak the next day. Being in a rock band made me a better singer…but it also made me think that, as just a singer, I wasn’t worth much.
Even before the band “officially-unofficially” broke up, I guess I had a feeling it was headed for the end. Why else did I try the open mic circuit? Armed with only my guitar and rudimentary playing skills (which, over the years, have scarcely gotten better), I had no one to hide behind. Open mics and solo shows wore away the last of my stage fright. I got used to screwing up, that I don’t even feel that much relief when I don’t.
Nowadays, I don’t even bother looking shy when asked to sing. I go up, pick a song, and perform it. But, unless I’m invited to a gig, I don’t sing much anymore.
I had an officemate who would plug in her headphones and loudly sing along to her playlist while working. Other people might find it annoying, but I didn’t. I envied her, because it’s been a long time since I’ve sung that way. A long time since I simply enjoyed my voice, the wonder of losing yourself to a melody, the three minutes where the world falls away. I listen to a lot of music. I dance. Sometimes I lipsynch.
But, outside of gigs, I don’t sing much.
I didn’t know that my mum’s family was very musical. My dad’s family kind of is, but when I perform at parties (I rarely perform at their parties) it always feels like they’re humoring me: they text or chat to their seatmates and only perfunctorily clap when I’m done. At my mum’s cousin’s party, the grandkids all came up to sing and everyone was so engaged: taking videos, cheering, singing along. It was lovely.
There was a rockaoke band they hired for the night, to serenade them for dancing. I was actually on my way out when the lead singer/host, Mike O’Brien (O’Bryan?), asked if anyone wanted to sing. My mum pushed me forward.
I sang “Grow Old With You” from The Wedding Singer. I remember it was one of the last songs an old college crush taught me before he got bored of teaching me guitar. It’s a really easy song, but after I was done these distant relatives who I rarely saw–but genuinely enjoyed being around!–started coming up to me and telling me I should pursue singing.
I’ve been trying to be a musician for the better part of six years, but for most of those years, I’ve focused on being something other than a singer. Songwriter. Arranger. Student. I’ve always fallen short, never been as good as I was when I had a band behind me and could just focus on lyrics and melody and getting the notes to come out of my body until I became the music. To be honest, I haven’t thought much about singing in these past few years.
But tonight, I realized I miss it. Just singing. Just disappearing into the music.
I miss it so much.