My Voice

“Everyone can sing.  It’s just a matter of finding your range.”

“I’ve heard that before, but I don’t know if I believe it.”

It was one of those conversations in passing — a few lines before the dialogue shifted to something else — but it echoed a little bit in the back of my head.  It bounced off the cylinders that always seem to be running — the introspection and self-analysis, always trying to crack the code, always trying to reveal what might still be hidden.

Everyone can sing.  It’s just a matter of finding your range, what set of notes you best sing under.  I thought about how I, more or less, came to that realization a few years back.  It wasn’t enough to steer the conversation back to the topic of singing — perhaps I’m just a little too keen, sometimes, on respecting the flow of a conversation and, save for when I leak out words in torrential, blabbering spouts, I err on the side of silence — but it was enough to get my own internal gears turning again.

It’s something I’ve thought about, for a while.  It’s been something I’ve been meaning to write about, for a while.  But, like many things, sometimes you have to allow it to incubate, lest it come out half-formed.

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I think about the years I spent assuming I couldn’t sing.  I think of my high school years, the times I spent driving around with my friends, deliberately singing below the volume of the radio, apologizing preemptively if my terrible voice was ruining the song.  The times I tried recording myself singing the latest pop hits — only to delete the recordings, because there are few ways to truly fuel teenaged self-loathing quite like playing back a track of you feebly attempting a Britney Spears tune.

(My God, I marvel at that little girl, the person I supposedly was upwards of 20 years ago.  Perhaps I have my gaze so firmly set to my upbringing because I think, if I stare long enough, I’ll be transported back in time and I can just give my broken teenaged self a hug.)

I think of sometime in middle school, when I would just let the music fly out, and my mom would say things like, “Oh boy. I sure hope they’ll teach you to sing right in choir,” and my dad would say things like, “Who sings that song?  Let them,” and I would harbor a crushed spirit and deep resentment until I learned to rewire those messages.

(But that’s a topic for a different day — another one that needs a little more time in incubation before it’s fully formed.)

There was an opening that occurred the day I realized I have a naturally deeper voice — that I might go up half an octave in my talking voice when I’m uncertain, sounding almost baby-like in the big people’s world — but at the core I’m a low alto, bordering on female baritone.

So of course Britney Spears and Mandy Moore wouldn’t work with my voice — but Amy Winehouse and Paloma Faith could.

It was not a perfect realization.  The dawning didn’t usher in a brand new day.  I still sing off-pitch sometimes, go nasally too easily — perhaps from too many years of attempting a soprano’s song — and my knee-jerk response is still to shy away from singing in front of others.  Let the music be turned up.  Let other people sing.  Who knows what’ll happen if my voice is heard.

But the metaphor is there, every dark corner and line.  How long I spent trying to force my voice to be something it wasn’t, to fit the square peg into a round hole.  How long I spent trying to force myself into a role only because that was what I’d heard and that was what I thought was expected of me.  And how off it sounded — how my voice strained as I mimicked — but how rich the music became when I let my voice be authentic.  How beautiful life’s potential became when it stopped being about mirroring so much as it became about unfolding.

And yet, still, the echoes of that insecurity.  The hesitation, the erring on the side of silence.  The impossible mission of rewiring those messages of my upbringing — do you really think anything positive will happen if you speak up? if you let your own voice through? — that I still feel uneasy in my new form.

(And perhaps writing about those messages is a little more ready than I thought.)

A week or so after the conversation with my friends, I find myself singing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” as I get ready for my next class.  I find I have a lot of freedom to sing aloud these days.  I tend to go home between classes, where expanses of lawn and forest and a small pride of cats await me.  Then there’s always the car as I drive from class to class, where there is no one else but me and the radio.

My voice is off.  I’m still recovering from a cold that knocked me off my feet turned my lungs into mush.  My throat is still scratchy, my talking voice still with that rattle that comes with days of violent coughing.

I have no idea what I actually sound like.  I am within my range, but those of us who didn’t grow up musically inclined have a hard time hearing our own pitch and tone.  I’m also aware that my walls are not soundproof — that the neighborhood might be mercifully spread out, but a loud voice can carry from the road into a home, and vice versa.  But I also don’t care.  The song is in my head and I’m allowing myself to croon it out.

I can’t help but think of a line in a Tori Amos song — a beautiful song sung by a beautiful soprano, a song I might’ve attempted a time or two in my life:

“I’ve been here, silent all these years.”

It’s a line I let simmer, just like so many other quotes and lyrics and passages that flitter into the mind.  There’s nothing silent about me right now, and perhaps I’m beginning to uncover the other beauties in finding your own voice, such as learning to let go of that fear and let yourself be heard.

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