But What I Really Want To Do Is Act

Ξ June 12th, 2010 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Uncategorized, music-nerd |

Well, no. Not really. Short of avoiding the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look when presenting to executives, acting is well beyond my capabilities. The only time I’ve ever been on stage and not part of a musical ensemble of some sort, I was on stage acting like part of a musical ensemble of some sort. And even then, I don’t think that counts, since we were actually a musical ensemble of some sort. The point is, even that I managed to screw up1… so no, the acting thing is right out.

But I do want to be able to sing.

I understand music. I understand instruments. I love the order. I love how much sense it makes. I love that you can take these highly structured building blocks and create something that is genuinely beautiful out of them, something that is well and truly more than the sum of its parts and in a way that is evocative, compelling, individual. I love that you can reverse engineer a piece and actually start quantifying beauty2… start looking at not only the distribution of the blocks themselves but also at the interfaces between them, how they’re built, whether they’re between or within voices… even start looking at those choices in a greater psychological or anthropological context and begin seeing order spiraling outwards. And instruments are just a means for managing these blocks, whether you’re creating a block or an interface between blocks. You can pick up an instrument and it makes sense; you might have to work a little harder to get the embouchure right, to get the tone you need, to get the expressiveness you want… but you understand it. At least as a tool, you understand it.

So anyway, I’ve got this instrument called a voice. It’s a great deal: I don’t have to worry about transporting it around; I don’t have to buy new reeds for it or worry about its pads. It is also one of the rare instruments I cannot use as a means of self-expression and it is the first and only instrument I’ve ever encountered that I cannot use even as a tool.

We can start off by saying that I’m not tone deaf. In a choral setting, I can blend fairly well3. But as the only voice, with or without instrumental accompaniment, I simply cannot sing. It sounds good enough to my own ears while I’m doing it – and rest assured, I do it exuberantly and, dare I admit, boisterously when alone4 – but it’s only after I record it and listen back that I can hear just how terrible it is. I am consistently sharp: distractingly, terribly, offensively sharp. I can’t hit a note spot-on and have to slide around to find it… if, as mentioned in the preceding point, I ever do at all. I actively try to add emotion to what I’m singing… and while I can hear it, feel it, with perfect clarity coming from the piano I’m playing… the vocal parts sounds flat, insipid. At best – at best – they sound contrived… and that’s being generous because it still doesn’t fix that whole not-singing-the-right-pitch-in-the-first-place issue.

I don’t really have stage fright. I used to be utterly crippled by it but unlike the body dysmorphia, the Trekphilia, the MMORPG addiction, and the constant craving for a roller rink, I actually grew out of it. I can play a piano in front of a hall full of people and be rock steady.5 I can step into a board room, face half a dozen dour faces belonging to people who make more in a month than I do in a year, and come out on the other side with millions of dollars worth of funding for my company. I’m not sure when that happened or why, incidentally, but whatever the reason, getting up in front of people is no longer an issue. Hasn’t been for a while.

Except when I’m singing. I can’t even bring myself to sing in front of my husband. Hell, I can’t even bring myself to sing when I’m alone in the house and I know a window is open, lest someone outside hear me. I’m that terrified of it.

I suspect that this irrational fear, whatever its cause, is actually at the root of my problems. Don’t get me wrong; I think I could become a reasonable singer. I’ll never be able to use my voice to make art; I think it’s probably destined to be one of the instruments through which I just can’t really express myself. But I think it’s definitely reasonable for me to become a decent singer… maybe not one who can reach into your chest and pull on a heartstring but at least one who won’t inadvertently reach in and a hate stick through your eardrums. I’m a musician, after all. I know all about practice. I know about drills. I know all about the building blocks.

But the fact is, I’m so terrified of singing that I’m not giving myself the opportunity to get better. I can’t sing in front of people. I can’t even sing in front of people who might (or might not!) be within earshot. I’ll never get better if I can’t get over that.

And I have no idea why it’s different than anything else. I have no problems going in to work and telling the guy who asks me to build some kind of app that I’ve never worked with reporting services before and that it’ll take me a bit to learn. I have no problems picking up a guitar and failing spectacularly on barring an F for half an hour, well within earshot of the entire apartment complex. I just have no idea why singing is different.


  1. We were doing a run of 1940’s Radio Hour, you see, and I was the piano player in the Zoot Doubleman Orchestra. (Big stretch, right? Me playing a piano player. Them’s some serious character acting, people. I subscribe to the Lindsay Lohan School of Method Acting.) So anyway, we had these fake cigarettes that we were supposed to be smoking all smooth and cool-like. In the smoothest and most cool-like way possible, I dropped mine in the piano. No really. Right past the harp. Couldn’t get it out. I checked the piano at my ten-year reunion and it was still rolling around in there. Anyway, the good news was that it was a fake cigarette and we didn’t actually light the school’s piano on fire. The bad news was that the director apparently did NOT want the band to be drawing attention from her leads by hysterically acting like we were putting out a fire in said piano. I have no idea why not. The guy playing Zoot Doubleman even made a big show of giving me a pink post-it note and pointing angrily to the fake door we were sitting by. That’s character development, man.
  2. Sweeping statement with no qualifications that is only tangentially related to the topic of this post? Check. We’ll come back to it later.
  3. By the way, I always wanted to grow up to be a backup singer. A straight up, beehived, little-skirted, elbow-gloved “Girl Behind Her” of “Fancypants McGee and the Girls Behind Her” fame. Shoobie doobie doo!
  4. And yes, just to be clear, my car counts as alone when the windows are up. If we’re stopped on the 405 next to each other and you can hear me belting out “Hey, Soul Sister” at the top of my lungs while drumming enthusiastically on the steering wheel, well, that’s your fault. I am a motherf*cking ar-teest and this is my private performance hall. I’ve done my due diligence to protect you. The windows are up. You wouldn’t have even noticed, save for the parking lot that we have been fated to share as our evening commute. I have done everything in my power to keep my trainwreck singing from negatively impacting your life. Now stop staring at me and so help me god, if that’s a camera phone you have pointing at me, I will roll these motherf*cking windows down and expose you to the unadulterated, Lovecraftian horror first hand. I won’t even get to “the rockets red glare” before your face explodes. Don’t you try me. DON’T PUSH ME.
  5. Unless I’ve been drinking, but I think that might be another issue entirely.

    Original post by blah


  • Rumours and Lies