I was in the car one afternoon last summer with my husband. He’s a lot of fun to drive home with because he’s always singing and dancing in the car. No joke. It’s especially fun when he listens to Michael Jackson, because he knows all the moves and he dances them all while driving. I’m sure this is probably dangerous driving behavior, but whatever. That one afternoon, he had just purchased the album “Love Songs,” which is a compilation album by Phil Collins. He was busting out to the whole album throughout our 45-minute ride home. The man has no inhibitions inside his car, and Phil Collins is no picnic to sing along to for a male singer. My husband is a pretty talented singer, but he’s no Phil Collins.
After a particularly lively rendition of Two Hearts, he turns to me with a grin and says, “It must irritate you so much to have to listen to people sing when they’re off-key.” I had to think about it for a second. I’ll be honest, I get a weird feeling when performers sing off-key. For me, it’s like the feeling you get when you’re watching Bridget Jones Diary and she walks into the garden party wearing a Playboy bunny costume, when it turns out that the vicars-and-vamps theme had been called off and everyone else is wearing khakis and sundresses. That feeling, like you’re embarrassed for her, and you want to turn off the movie but you can’t, because you know Colin Firth is about to show up at the buffet table. You want to run over and throw a fleece blanket over her to hide her from the humiliation. That’s sort of how I feel when I hear performers sing poorly onstage.
In spite of that, I absolutely LOVE to hear people sing. I especially love to listen to people sing when they don’t think of themselves as singers. In fact, this is probably one of my favorite sounds in the world. Non-singers usually only sing when they’re happy or comfortable around you, which makes it feel like a very exclusive moment when you’re allowed to witness it. It’s like the sound of a child who is just learning how to laugh. There’s so much vulnerability, innocence and honesty in that voice. So much potential. So much hope.
This is what I love about being a singing instructor (pardon the gratuitous self-promotion; I need more students!). I get to hear a lot of different voices, and I’m basically trained to listen for their flaws because this is how I can find ways to help them improve. Yet, what I hear underneath all of that is the sound of a person who trusts me enough to share their voice with me, just as it is. They throw their fears and insecurities out the window and just bring what they have to the table, pitch problems and all. I help them fix it, but I must admit, the before clip is just as precious to me as the after. It’s easy to sing with a polished, well-trained voice that resonates and reverberates at all the right frequencies. It’s a lot harder to sing when your voice is rough, unruly and unfamiliar. Having seen so many beginners in my studio, I know that this is a much harder battle to fight. For many people, that first note is the scariest one to sing. And yet they sing it. They don’t know it at the time, because they feel awkward and embarrassed, but they’ve just made my day. And all they had to do was sing was one note.
That afternoon last summer, after my husband asked me that question, I turned to look at him and realized how lucky I am. Lucky to have a husband who sings out loud in the car (and who sounds good doing it). Lucky to have a gift to share, wisdom to impart. Lucky to be doing what I do, to play the role I play in people’s lives. So don’t be scared; let out a song once in a while when you’re around me. You’ll catch me listening. And you’ll make my day.