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A Cappella

July 11, 2012

Whenever I see one of these sayings on magnets or greeting cards I have to laugh. “Sing like no one is listening.” Ha! I cannot carry a tune to save my life. Like if the ship were going down in a wreck, I wouldn’t be the one that should be singing in the lifeboats, or whatever that Voltaire quote says. If I’m really going to throw myself under the bus with this revelation, I might as well take others with me–not one person in my family can sing either. Usually singing goes hand and hand with having musical interest, and I have neither. I’ve known this from a fairly young age.

In fifth grade, we had band class. If memory serves, everyone had to take it and you could chose from a whole pile of instruments–trombones, flutes, clarinets, and drums. My twin sister was drawn to the flute and was of course a natural. She was already begging my mom for sheet music and giving our family private concerts. I, on the other hand, was still troubleshooting getting through “Hot Cross Buns” without a mistake on my recorder at home. The same one my parents told me sounds even prettier when playing it outside for the neighbors. It was settled that the clarinet was my speed. But, mostly I just remember my parents laughing until they cried at how awful my squeaky instrument sounded at my hand. I’d beg to go buy new reeds for it, insisting it had to be a broken reed as to why that clarinet sounded like air being let out of a balloon.

My clarinet stint didn’t last long, but I’m sure that instrument is tucked somewhere in my mother’s house and still makes her laugh. After that, my mother insisted I take piano lessons. Somehow the memory of how horrific I sounded with previous parlays into this arena and how getting me to practice was like torture escaped her. We went through several piano teachers, including one with a hump back so large I mostly just stared at it the whole time and when she’d ask, “Did you practice?” I’d lie and tell her, “Of course.” Even though we both knew the truth. My lesson followed her musical prodigy, the older sister of a girl I went to school with who played like a young Mozart and would smirk as she left her lesson and I stood in the hall. As I still had to use the tear-out sheet from music books to identify the proper keys some several years into the lessons, no one was fooling anyone here. After hump back threw her hands up in disgust, my brother’s high school girlfriend gave me lessons for a brief time. We laugh, since now that’s his wife, about how awful I was. I feel like she might’ve taught me how to french braid or something during the lessons because I cannot remember playing one note of that piano. Whatever my parents paid her was certainly not enough to teach both my twin sister and I. Talk about both ends of the musical spectrum.

By junior high, I finally had musical aspirations of my own. Every single one of my girlfriends was trying out for chorus in ninth grade. My twin sister and I were told by very reliable sources that everyone gets a spot, no matter what. To this day, we tear up in fits of laughter over the fact that we both chose—insisted—that we sing our tryout songs a cappella. She selected “How About You” by Frank Sinatra and I can still remember her starting out, “I like New York in June, how about you?” I (for reasons to this day are still unknown) went with, “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You” by George Benson.

Why in the world we both chose songs originally sung by men is beyond me. And why not one person stopped us is the bigger question. Third, does anyone else think that at 14 it was wildly inappropriate that I was singing about feeling a strong love and wanting to be touched now? I remember standing outside the closed-door tryout as I heard the person in front of me belting their number out in perfect pitch to an accompanying piano. It was then, and there, that it dawned on me that the piano might’ve helped me out right about how. I’d never planned on having a back up instrument in this scenario. My years of torturous practice blocked out any thought existing that perhaps some good background music might distract folks into thinking I could sing.

As I walked in, I knew it wasn’t going to end well for either one of us. I smiled shyly at the teacher (for the life of me I cannot remember her name) as feelings reminding me of old hump back came flooding back. We both know the truth here. I shouldn’t even been allowed in this room. She asked me to show her the music and I told her I’d be going solo, no need for her to step in. She asked me if I wanted a key to help start me out and I insisted, no, thanks, don’t even bother.

While my twin sister likes to joke often (leaving voicemail messages singing “Nothing’s Gonna Change my Love for You”) about our chorus tryouts, she really cannot talk. I have no idea how her belting out about liking a Gershwin tune and holding hands in the movies actually went because we both had our answer when the list was posted for the new chorus members.

The only two names not on the list belonged to our family. And I couldn’t be happier for that failure.

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