Singing is much much much much harder than drumming. I sang at the last show and while it did not go badly, I felt in my voice a hesitation and in my head I heard a voice that screamed: “OH MY GOD!! YOU’RE SINGING IN PUBLIC! STOP!” I kept singing and the two brief songs I sang were over before I knew it. So, to the voice I said, “Relax, it’ll be over in a second.”

I so admire singers. And not just famous singers, everyday singers. People who sing songs while they do the dishes or go for a walk. I admire people who sing whole choruses and verses of their favorite song. I have favorite songs and singers. I like the way Nat King Cole sings “Mona Lisa” and the way he lingers on the “m” so that it’s sounds like “yummm…”. I like Etta James when she sings “At Last” and the way she sings the “at last” so that you really can feel her exhale a sigh of relief…at last. I like even (or especially) Astrud Gilberto because of how she sings slightly off-pitch, no so badly that it’s unlistenable but just enough so that it’s charming, fetching, as if she were a child lisping. I love that she is singing and she’s not a perfect singer. And I have discovered (re-discovered, really, I’m old enough to have heard her songs on the radio in the 70s) Karen Carpenter and how she sings with a very short range but every note and breath counts. Every time it rains, her song about rainy days and Monday seems to fall with each drop. Rainy days and Mondays always get me down. Sing it, girl. You speak the truth.

So, I am in awe of singers: the great ones, the flawed ones, the affected ones. I admire them because more than any other instrument I have learned to play (piano, violin, drums), the voice is the one that asks you to be vulnerable. When I sing with my voice, I am making music with my own body (flawed, imperfect, limited) and I’m singing (ideally) with my emotions (sad, angry, happy) and there is no object in between me and the sound an audience hears. There is no instrument under my chin or a wall of drums to hide me from the audience. It is just me and my voice. And when I sat on stage singing I felt as naked as I could feel, despite the wall of drums that sat in front of me. God help me the day I walk out from behind the drums to sing in public.

Singing makes me grow. I have to learn how to find intervals with my voice, which is a matter of teaching the muscles in my throat, mouth, chest, diaphragm to recognize an “A” and know how it’s different from a “C.” Needless to say, I’m still teaching myself those things so by the time we played last week, I still couldn’t pitch myself very well, especially when I was drumming. There was one moment in the chorus of “Rosie” that I knew I wouldn’t hit a low note. We had discovered in rehearsal that fell below my range and that I should go an octave or a third up instead. But, because it’s all new to me and a third up might as well be a universe up, I didn’t quite have it down when we went to the show. And during the song, I tried not to anticipate it. I tried to just let the moment come and accept whatever happened when we got to the chorus.

Oddly, when we got there, a solution presented itself. We were singing in unison and as Brian’s voice dropped down to the unreachable note, I could feel that I wouldn’t hit it on key, and my hands and arms with a mind and brain of their own took over. Instead of singing that note, I played two loud hits on the snare. My voice didn’t sing it but my arms did. The result was that it sounded as if I was punctuating on the drums the idea of the word that Brian was singing. Problem solved. Life is awesome.

Last night we rehearsed again and in order to work on vocals we left all the big gear at home. No big amps, no drums: just Brian and his telecaster and small Fender Champ and me and a snare. A thirty-minute set-up with full drums became a five-minute set-up without them, and within minutes of arriving at the rehearsal space we were ready to practice.

We spent the next hour fighting. I wanted him to turn down. He didn’t want to. I wanted to sing it one way; he, another. He felt invalidated; I was angry. For an hour we stopped and started the same song. We fought about line breaks and fell into angry silences. After an hour, I stopped and did something I learned to do at the last buddhist retreat. I put my hands together, plam to palm, and inhaled and slowly, I counted my out-going breaths from five to zero. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Zero.

“Why don’t we just relax and do what we like?” I said.

Brian sat still, not moving, slumped over his yellow guitar like a puppet without a master. “Okay,” he said in a mutter.

We kept playing. Over the hour the angry stillness seemed to lift and as we got out one good rendition of “Twilight. We seemed to lighten up even more and tried another song. Eventually, we both apologized and began talking about other songs to work on.

There’s an idea, a stereotype really, of a temperamental diva-singer in a booth hurling insults at producers and creating tantrums. It’s a cliche, but I have discovered there’s a reason why it happens so often. Singing is hard. Even when you’re good at it. You are vulnerable in a glass booth with groups of people watching you sing. You are there, naked, in front of others while they drink coffee and stare at you with detached disinterest. You are out there — and here’s the kicker — no one else is.

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