You all know by now that I am not a singer. I get asked all the time, since I’m married to a choral conductor (who happens to also be a lovely singer himself) and I hang out with an enormous cadre of the vocally talented. When I demur, I get asked what kind of musician I am, then, because after all, so many denizens populating the rest of our joint life are outstanding composers, instrumentalists, conductors, and all of the rest that, well, it just seems so obvious. In truth, I did take the obligatory childhood music lessons–about five years at the piano, if you remember–ending with a certain rueful amusement on my teachers’ part but no great skill on mine, plus a brief period of voice lessons from a well-meaning coach who’d heard my sisters and me sing and gave the elder two of us a go. Where again, my failure to learn to read music with any ease was further complicated by my inability to understand and make use of the very important concept of singing with a head voice. Having become accustomed over my earlier years to being mistaken for Dad on the phone, or for an older girl because I was extremely shy and therefore more reserved than many kids my age plus having a relatively deep voice for a girl, or for a more skilled singer than I really was because I was willing to sing any part–and did, at one point, sing in all four choral sections because that was how the need was distributed in my various school and church choirs–well, it all probably let me learn a whole array of bad vocal habits that pretty much put the kibosh on my becoming an actual skilled singer. The likely absence of a notable native vocal “instrument” wouldn’t’ve helped either, had I tried to force the issue, but by the time that I hit high school and time management demanded that I narrow down my interests a bit, choir fell off the list other than occasional singing at church. Who knew I’d end up partnered with this guy!
But as I also pointed out some time ago, the influence of music and of singing remained large and happy in my life, even if I was not destined to be a producer of them. I continued to love listening, cultivated many musical friends who provided the sonic tapestry that was the backdrop of my happiness, and even collaborated with musicians on projects where they provided the aural elements of a performance and I the visual imagery to accompany it. For a few years, I served on the Concert Committee that produced a reasonably ambitious season of musical offerings at our church, which was conveniently located just across a university campus from the music department where many of my fine-musician friends happened to work. It must be added, in fairness, that the draw of being on said Committee was not purely musical but also deeply social, what with all of the musicians and music-lovers therein, and also exceedingly delicious, because most of the musicians I’ve known are committed eaters if not foodies and so the Committee’s meetings quickly evolved into elaborate gustatory events as well.
And that’s precisely why music has remained so largely writ in my life, if not burgeoned and positively exploded, over the years since: music is so intertwined with so many parts of what I love in life that I can’t separate one happiness from another. If music be the food of love, play on! What hasn’t followed for me is what followed for Duke Orsino, because I never found either that I became surfeited by listening to good music or that I became surfeited with love by loving life with musicians–one in particular. Tough luck, your Grace! So I am not dutifully following, wagging my tail obsequiously, as I go to a rehearsal and sit in the darkened hall while choirs work their repertoire into their voices and souls to prepare for performance; I am both absorbing the inner workings of music that don’t exist in me innately or by scholarly wisdom, so to appreciate and bathe in the final production all the more, and also having the beauty of the practice itself wash over me in waves that can inspire me to write, to draw or paint, to design my better garden bed or concoct a more delectable dish for dinner. Waves that, at their best, lift me out of myself and let me feel the singing pass through me as though I, non-musician-non-singer that I am, with spasmodic dysphonia that presumably means even if I ever figure out my head voice and/or learn to read music, I won’t become a great singer–as though I myself were singing.
So, though I may struggle to sing a simple ditty nowadays, I have this magnificent vicarious experience available to me that few are privileged to share, and in this rather out-of-body experiential way expect to sing my way through the rest of my very happy future. As I do the usual end of the year assessments and look ahead to what I imagine and hope for the year soon to come, the imagery is suffused in every possible way with music. I am immersed in song. I write lyrics because I cannot sing them. I listen to rehearsals because I cannot read music well and don’t know the inner workings of music preparation the way performers and conductors do. I attend concerts because the kinds of beauty and grief, daring and humor, poignancy and brilliance that come through well made music embrace, interweave and transcend all of the other parts of my life so that I feel transported, changed to a better self. As though I too am singing in a song that may never have to end.