Into Tomorrow, Endlessly Singing

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!

white pencil on black paper

Sketches from a Swedish Radio Choir rehearsal, my husband conducting (if you've seen him conduct enough, you can recognize even the rough sketch of his hand positions) . . .

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.

white pencil on black paper

Conducting another Sparkling performance . . .

41 thoughts on “Into Tomorrow, Endlessly Singing

  1. The world would be a much poorer place without music. I cannot sing in tune and I am occasionally fascinated by the notion that everyone can actually be thought to sing in tune (or so I have read) but as yet I have never put the notion to the test by signing up for singing lessons.

    • For those who are able (even I am, *some* of the time), no matter what the arguable quality or beauty is, I hope they all feel free to sing whenever they can. Tuning matters when you’re in a choir or performance where you must be judged on such things, but singing for pure pleasure and happiness–that should be the rightful domain of anyone ready and willing. 🙂

  2. Music is one of my favorite things and I adore singing (at my house or in my car)! Others around me may not adore my singing but that does not matter to me. So wonderful that your world is filled with music. What an inspiration for your art!

    • Lucky me once again! I’ll bet the mere act of your singing brings happiness to those around you, because they know *you’re* singing for pleasure. And if you sing a hundredth as well as you bake and write–well, birds will fall right out of the trees in happy surprise. 🙂

  3. Music…is still breathing for me, even after all these years away from it. It affects on such a deep level – the resonance of a pipe organ brings tears, weeling up, spilling down my face. Neither joy nor sorrow; something inside is simply *moved*…

    On a lighter note (ha!), I have recently realized that I still know every verse of Baby Beluga after 20 years…go figure!

    • Betcha if a whole bunch of us did a little cogitating on the subject we’d discover a whole realm of childhood’s songs (from our own childhoods and from when we shared the music with other children later) that we’d be surprised to find so imprinted that they’re quite fresh in mind. Recently I was struck by hearing in my head the tune of a Norwegian children’s song (kind of the Norsk version of Baa Baa Black Sheep) that I often sang to soothe my niece when she was a colicky infant. She’s 21. 🙂

  4. You are so fortunate to be so completely immersed and surrounded by so much music… I would dream of that! My music is contained to practices and sessions and the odd concert I sneak out to… at 3pm on a Sunday when no one notices I’m missing… I sit in a church pew and escape this world to the sounds of music..
    (ps I still know Baby Beluga words… and many more Raffi tunes… odd, eh?)

    • Not odd or surprising at all, Barb–see my note to Marie just above here–music really *stays*. If you haven’t read Oliver Sacks’s ‘Musicophilia’ yet I’ll bet you’d love it too. It’s just wonderful that we can carry it internally (or burst into random songs) when not in true rehearsal or lesson or concert environments, at least to hold us over ’til the next. 🙂

  5. Filipinos love singing, infact most of the Filipinos overseas owns a karaoke machine. I suggest you go to some Filipino party as it always involves singing then you will know your voice its better than you has expected 🙂

    • 🙂 Thank you, Raymund–actually, I do kind of like my voice, and even get compliments on it when I am able to sing. But in the decade or more that I’ve had Spasmodic Dysphonia, my vocal cords have become less and less functional for longer periods of time, so it’s more difficult and tiring and so is less pleasurable to try to control them enough to sing. So mostly I get much more enjoyment now from listening to others sing, and that’s okay with me. But I *really* do enjoy that part (so I’d better never go deaf!). And I’m not surprised that Filipino culture is full of music–it seems to me, an uneducated foreigner, that it’s a culture that values creativity and expressiveness highly (hence all of the beautiful art, traditional architecture, dance, cuisine, and so forth). Someday perhaps I’ll get to experience it first-hand!

    • Thank you! In a similar way, I hear laughter built into the rhythms of your writing, part of its immeasurable charm and natural Smartitude (if I may use a favorite designation for those who have mastered being wry without excess snarkiness, funny without straining under the effort, and clever without shattering credulity completely).

  6. I was once lucky enough to be backstage (way way backstage I might add) when the gorgeously naughty Pavarotti was playing at the Mission in NZ once. He had a wee snack at half time and when the crowd roared for him to return, (at the encouragement of the MC), he wiped him mouth on his napkin, then he shot out onto the stage and waved this big white napkin to them, wait ,wait, I am a coming!! I am acoming! Food and music!! c

    • Perfect! I can picture the event precisely (and hear it, of course). Hmmm . . . Pavarotti’s ‘wee snack’: probably an enormous platter full of pasta with all the trimmings, and a jug of some bold Rosso. Just to perk him up for Act II. 😉 Obviously from one of your many previous incarnations, this episode! I am convinced you are incapable of having a Dull Moment, C!!!

  7. A great post, Kathryn. Although I suspect you’ve more musical talent than you’re letting on, it seems that Life wanted to make sure your love for music didn’t go unrequited. To make up for any (perceived) shortcomings, She surrounded you with music and even included a Conductor, to boot! Kinda nice how things worked out, eh?

    • Oh, I’m not outright appalling musically! Just ordinary. 🙂 Being able to sing on key, I will admit, seemed like a puny talent until I developed SD and couldn’t even rely on actual sounds coming out, let alone on producing reasonable pitch anymore, and now I think maybe I ought to noodle at the piano more often again to replace what’s dimming in the vocal cords. But I’m not melancholic about it in the least, being so wonderfully immersed in others’ music. As you say, *truly* nice how things worked out!!!

  8. Happy New Year, Kathryn.
    I’ve never been a good singer myself, but I sing anyhow. It’s just another way of relieving stress or letting your mind run off somewhere. I have a somewhat strong connection to music due to my lessons in piano…but I’ve never had an ear for it.
    For me, it’s more like a forced hobby. Something I force myself to continue. That’s a little weird…I guess. But when I let myself go with it instead of being stuck to a curriculum…I just feel so free and this enforcement fades away.
    This entry really reached out to my own self-reflection. Thank you for sharing!

    • I’m so glad this spoke to you, ‘Nessa. And I’m glad you’ve found something worth pursuing in your musical adventures. You’re probably a better singer than you think, what with our always being our own worst critics. 🙂 But it doesn’t really matter anyway. Sing for the love of singing. It doesn’t always have to be Art.

  9. I only sang in HS choir for my freshman year, then I quit. But I’ve always loved music since I was a toddler. I pride myself on being semi-fearless at karaoke (I try to actually sing the song not just goof off) and to top things off I went and married myself a baritone who used to sing in a touring opera group. It’s great fun hearing us sing together in the car 🙂

    • Gotta say, there are some great perks with marrying a sweet baritone, aren’t there!! 😉 Any ‘evidence’ lurking out there on the web of your spouse’s singing life? I can’t quite croak out enough to sing along with R in *our* car, but he still sings me his amazingly goofy impromptu compositions and I pitch (no pun intended) in when I can!

  10. Once upon a time, I was a soloist in choir and then a vocalist in competition. When it was good, it was like flying. Like the ultimate out-of-body experience. Like my voice found my soul and carried it up and up through clouds of little notes and then rained down on me, small and breathless, below. Life got in the way, and now my voice evades me unless I’m filled with joy or pain too big to hold myself, and only music from deep inside can help me bear it. My children have heard me sing. For now, that’s enough 🙂

    • Your prose sings to me in its lyrical sorrows and joys too, Desi. But I would love to hear your actual singing too. Someday, perhaps! What a magnificent description of your experience here. It lifts me too. Thank you.

  11. You are a singer in words and art. Songs tumble alive into the universe in may forms, flying up from a field with thousands of wings and the calls of snow geese or haunting the dark with the voice of the owl or singing in stone as chiseled by the poet of Gilgamesh. We are all songs, and your song is beautiful.

    • Mr. Davis, what a generous and gracious thing to say! I thank you deeply. And I am all the more glad I *finally* figured out how to get my Following of your blog to start feeding to my email the way it is supposed to do. Hurray!
      Kathryn

  12. I can’t sing pretty, but I sure sing loud! I too love music, and actually sang in choir while in high school as well as singing in the church choir while in my early 20’s – there really is safety in numbers – much to the amazement of those who have heard me sing lately. Just ask my husband if he would like to hear my version of The Sound of Music… Oh well, we can’t master EVERYTHING can we?

    • Honey, you have mastery in so many other areas you can hardly be faulted if you’re half as imperfect a singer as you claim. But darn it anyway, choirs (at the very least, congregational hymns) can use us Filler types too, if they’re sing-for-joy enterprises, and there are thankfully NO laws regarding what’s acceptable in cars, showers, stairwells and empty gymnasia, except the laws of not tormenting companions overmuch, so you and I can just keep on keeping on. 🙂

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