Why I’m Not a Singer

My dad had a record or two or a collection of Marian Anderson’s songs and I loved listening to her alto/contralto voice. It was so rich and textured I wanted to be an alto and practiced my speaking so my voice would be lower and well-modulated. Singing in choirs and with my voice teachers, I was always put in Soprano I or II; once in a while, though, I would be put in alto when a strong lead was needed. No matter what my voice coach or choir directors said, I never thought myself a singer and I never thought I had the voice to sing, mainly because of a tape reel of us singing nursery rhymes–I was only 6 then–that my mother would play for visitors; I hated it because I thought my voice sounded awful and childish and weak. I envied and idolized singers in school with naturally powerful and musical voices but was always too shy to sing solo. I tried to audition once for the glee club but was refused; I did get to perform in a handful of musicals, mainly because they were school productions, but listening to others, I have admitted to myself, time and again, that there are many amateur singers far better than me.

When I was turned down by the glee club, my brother (with a powerful singing voice and, of course, my mother’s darling) was rehearsing for a musical. I met their voice coach, who somehow convinced me to sing a few bars, which led to chords and, before I knew it, she had convinced my mother to allow me to take vocal coaching from her and to join a choir she was putting together. In her words, I had a “lovely voice”. I could not believe it because I never really heard myself sing except on that awful tape with our nursery rhymes, but it opened up a small dream I had tucked away as a little girl. I soon found myself rehearsing after school and on weekends and, before I knew it, the choir was booked for a gala performance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. (I shall post photographs when I find them.) We were all fitted for gowns (my first gown ever!) and I was excited, singing in Soprano I or II for most of the concert.

After our gala, we started rehearsing Christmas carols because we would be caroling for our sponsors and donors, who would host us (and boy, did they feed us!) as we sang for them and their guests. We went to around 4 or 5 different homes, each grander than the last, but that kept us on the road past midnight. Somewhere past 1 a.m., I was finally dropped off at home where I faced my mother’s extreme ire. She ranted about what kind of people stayed out so late at night, got angry at our directress, and forbade me from ever going to another voice class or rehearsal. I was devastated and disappointed and embarrassed all at once, because my fellow choir members would occasionally call and ask why I wasn’t attending anymore. I told them the truth, that my mother would not let me.

A couple of years after, when I was in university, I joined a youth ministry group which worked with communities and did a lot of singing, and I could stay out as late as I wanted because I no longer lived at home–at least most of the time. I joined several extra-curricular activities, including a dance company, the school paper, the math society, the forensics society, and a reading club that I formed, so I spent a lot of time doing all sorts of activities after school and late into the nights. I also sang, danced, choreographed, and co-directed a couple of original musicals staged by the scholars in the program I was enrolled in.

I occasionally picked up a tiny solo part in choirs but I always felt my voice disappearing when I was asked to sing. The one time I braved it was when my close group of friends and co-teachers in the high school where I taught decided to perform in a benefit concert before the whole high school audience. That brought the house down–the whole concert, that is, but not so much, I think, because we were accomplished singers (we had a couple of really good singers) but because the students had never seen us perform that way before! Besides that, I did sing a lot for my kids when they were little. I haven’t really sung in a long time and am often tempted to join a choir but for the time. I have far too many other things to do, as it is, so I am saying good-bye to my singing aspirations. I was more of a natural at writing anyway, so that’s what I’m sticking with.

And that, my friends, is my singing career in a nutshell.

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