Facing the Music

I went to my first-ever voice lesson yesterday.

People who’ve known me for a while will be shocked at that. I don’t sing. I don’t dance. I don’t embarrass myself in front of strangers by doing something badly that I desperately want to do well. Even though it makes my music-loving, theater-background fiancee Alex sad.

This has been true since elementary school, at least. At my second-best friend’s ninth birthday party, she decided she wanted all of us to sing songs to her from The Little Mermaid, audition-style. I believe I sang “Under the Sea”, and I thought I did pretty well – remembered the words, nailed the accent. The birthday girl, however, dismissed me with a casual, “eh, not great.”

Ever since, I’ve lip-synched to “Happy Birthday”.

In my early 20s I worked for several years as a volunteer roadie, webmaster, merch seller, and general band-aid to an Austin folk-rock musician. She was the real thing, a charismatic, confident performer who made her living by her art, and I desperately wanted to be her. I did everything I could to make her like me, in the hopes that her confidence, her talent, her aura would somehow infect me. Spoiler: it didn’t. Instead, I made rather a pest of myself and invested way too much of my self-esteem into being liked and respected by someone who didn’t particularly like or respect me. And I didn’t do any of the things that would have actually made me more like her – learn an instrument, take public speaking classes. Learn to sing.

Finally I got wise and left that scene, and stopped going to live music performances almost entirely. And then, ten years later, I found myself a wide-eyed newbie in another circle of people I desperately admired. Late one night, the guitars came out, and my God–it was the same damned guitar, a jumbo Taylor. I had to hold it together. I like music – no, let’s be honest, I *love* music. It’s a synaesthetic trip for me and I adore the way the colors and the beats and the voices all blend. I couldn’t tear myself away, but I couldn’t join in because I know my voice is “eh, not great” at best, and I didn’t want to ruin things for people who are having fun, and oh my God I want to impress those people and I still can’t.

It happened again at a convention recently. (The science fiction community is super into folk music, ironically enough.) Some of the same people were there, and I realized something as I hyperventilated in a corner after the music stopped. These people? They actually like me, and respect me, and want me around. They’re actual friends. And, just like Alex, they want me to do fun stuff with them, and singing together is fun. Even if I’m not all that good.

So I said fuck it, and Alex found us a voice teacher, and you know what? I can match pitch tolerably well, if I concentrate, and I have a bit of vibrato going on. I performed possibly the least-competent-ever rendition of “On My Own”, and it was kinda fun. My throat is sore today, but we’re going back next week. And at the next con, dammit, if I know the words, I’m singing them.