I was happily singing “The Orchestra Song” in fourth grade music class, when my music teacher sarcastically snipped, “You are not a violin!” He laughed and instructed me to try singing the clarinet part quietly. The incident ranks very high on my list of most humiliating moments.
I learned the hard way that I couldn’t sing, and it took decades for me to unlearn that terrible lesson. I didn’t wait for someone to ask if I could sing, I volunteered the information every time I was in a singing situation to all those around me. It breaks my heart to hear someone say they can’t sing, dance, read, draw, or do any other activity that requires a particular skill. Doing begins with thinking, and a thoughtless remark can create the indelible tattoo “I can’t” on the heart of its recipient.
I’ve often wondered if my teacher realized the damage he did to my heart with his hateful remark. I’m not sure a comforting voice away from the class would have resulted in a different outcome, but it certainly would have been less humiliating than having to look at my peers while they enjoyed a good joke at my expense.
Fifty years later, during Holy Week of 2009, a very different teacher planted a singing seed in my heart. When I retired from teaching in 2007, I took on the job of Secretary/Treasurer at the church I was attending. My pastor, a former choral director, was in charge of music for the community Holy Week services and needed someone to accompany him. Those who had been helping him were not available, and he needed help.
When he asked me to sing, I thought he must be kidding. He knew how I felt about singing, so why would he ask me to sing in front of a group of people. I knew him well enough to know that he would never joke about something he knew was painful for me. He has a wonderful sense of humor, but I could tell by his countenance that he wasn’t kidding. The crowd was a loving group, so I decided to give it a shot.
As we practiced, John told me I had a beautiful voice. Again, I looked at him as if he had lost him mind; but he still had that serious look that let me know he wasn’t kidding. I lost myself in the songs and even sang a few verses alone. My heart was as light as it had ever been. When we got back to the church office, I asked him about ways to improve my voice. He gave me some pointers and explained that singing was mostly letting go and breathing. The rest could be learned in voice lessons. He said my voice fell naturally in the soprano range.
I floated out to the car that afternoon. I was a violin! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a clarinet; my mama had a beautiful alto voice which I tried to copy without success. In fourth grade, I was singing what felt right to me, and it turns out, I was right. My choir director and voice teacher both agree with John’s assessment. I am definitely a soprano.
When I decided to write this post, I looked up “The Orchestra Song” on youtube. My music teacher changed the words to the song. In his hateful version of the song, “the clarinet, the clarinet; he doesn’t know it but he learn it yet.” I remember that line vividly and decided, after trying to be a clarinet, that I was never going to get it.
Method and manner are very important when it comes to learning. My music teacher was a horrible example of what not to do. I thank God for placing another teacher in my path; the seed he planted eight years ago is finally beginning to bloom.
I decided to take voice lessons last month, and my teacher is amazing. I approached her after my grand daughters’ recital back in June and asked if she would be willing to teach me. She said she would love to. During the first lesson, she told me that she envied my range, but my natural singing voice was a soprano. While practicing my “mee, mee, mees” during one lesson, she beamed and said, “Wow! What a wonderful meee!”
I laughed and replied, “I’ve been working on that me for fifty-five years!!”