30 for 30: Take Voice Lessons

First learning to play the guitar. (Several years later, I'm still learning.)
First learning to play the guitar. I’d show a picture of me singing, but I don’t have any of those.

Over the past couple of weekends, I took voice lessons. Two lessons, in all, which is plural, and thus technically fulfills my goal to take voice lessonS. So–that was fun.

I have always loved singing. I’ve been in three musicals (with a very very very short solo in one of them), and auditioned for quite a few more. As a kid, I got tremendously car sick whenever we’d drive anywhere (a malady made worse by the twisty mountain roads we had to traverse to get out of our 300-person town) and to help battle that, I’d sing. I probably know next to a billion songs, or I did before childbirth started turning my brain to Swiss cheese (I know this is a lot of parentheticals, but I swear, having a baby makes you stupider, and I really want the world to know it). I used to sing in the shower and on the toilet until I went away to college and lived in a dorm where I didn’t want everyone to hear my bathroom singing. Partly because toilet singing makes you a dork, and partly because despite the good acoustics bathrooms have to offer (Weird Al recorded his first track in a bathroom with his drummer beating on a suitcase)(damn parentheticals)(okay I’ll stop), I have never considered myself a particularly good singer. So I thought I’d study up.

I found a teacher through TakeLessons.com. She was sweet and energetic and she came to my house, which was so convenient. We did silly exercises that warmed up my voice and helped me get my guard down. She listened to me sing.

The thing is, I didn’t have a real reason to be taking voice lessons. I don’t hope to be an opera singer and I have no plans to audition for any musicals any time soon. So we floundered a little. And then I decided I would find an audition piece, and we could work on that, and I would have it in my back pocket in case I ever did want to audition for a musical. I bought the music for “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”, Rizzo’s song from Grease, and proudly presented it to my teacher.

And then she wanted to see me act. Of course she did. Musical theatre requires a combination of acting and singing (and sometimes dancing, though I’m hopeless there), and ultimately, the character is more important than the notes. It’s why, despite how horribly Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan sing in Mamma Mia!, I’ve still watched that movie a dozen times. And between acting and singing, I’ve always considered acting my strong suit. I was a little rusty, and it was a little embarrassing, and I was a little unprepared to jump into Rizzo’s character, but I did it, and I thought my voice actually sounded okay.

This made me want to act more. The next day I was browsing the internet and I searched for local auditions, just for fun. And there was a call for a play (not a musical) featuring three women of my age, two of whom I think I could play. I signed up for an audition slot. I brought out an old monologue I once performed onstage and started memorizing.

I did all this when I was supposed to be working on my novel.

Then I remembered: The last time I was in a play, I didn’t write a word the whole time. I couldn’t focus on so many characters, and the play had an actual deadline and ticket holders who were going to see it; the novel might never be seen by anyone. It’s not a choice I wanted to have to make again. That, plus the fact that any time I tried to rehearse over the last couple weeks, my son has started crying, tugging at my clothes, running around like a maniac.

Suddenly, acting seemed like a terrible idea. I realized that I was probably going to go insane if I tried to really hone any performance piece. For the first time in a long time, I think I’m too busy. I almost never feel like I’m too busy. Maybe in grad school, when reading 300 stories for the Willow Springs fiction contest (which caused my eyes to lose the ability to focus or track for brief periods). But otherwise–I’ve been un- or underemployed for a long time. Too busy is such a strange feeling. Especially when some of the “busy-ness” involves sitting on the carpet pointing to pictures and making animal sounds.

So I quit taking voice lessons. And I don’t think I’m going to audition for that play (though I did spend part of the afternoon today attempting to memorize a monologue). I’m hoping that these two small sacrifices will stick in my head in those moments when I sit in front of my computer and think, “I really don’t want to work on my novel today.” I gave up voice lessons, for you, Novel!

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