(How many people can’t sing? How can you improve your singing? What’s the one thing to remember if you want to join a choir?)
My son John is tall and handsome. Smart too. Lest you think I’m just a biased mother, I’m also going to say that John is so tone deaf if he hummed “Happy Birthday to You” on your big day, you wouldn’t recognize the melody. John’s not the only one who can’t carry a tune in a bucket. According to experts at BRAMS (International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research) about 60% of people have a hard time carrying a pitch. If you’ve watched the auditions for American Idol you already know this though.
Singing for me has also been a problem—but for a very different reason.
Several people have told me I have a pretty voice. Some have even used the words “beautiful voice.” To which I usually respond with batted eyelashes and an “aw shucks” kind-of false humility. Hearing so much of this kind of feedback is probably the main reason I’m such an overly confident, robust (to put it mildly) singer. I’ve internalized these compliments over the years and at some level, close to, well, conscious thought, I must be convinced the world needs to hear my voice. You have to sing loud if your audience is the world.
Both my mother and her mother, Grandma Verna, were loud singers.
I remember my Grandma Verna singing “The Old Rugged Cross” at the Baptist church. Her voice sounded like God with a megaphone. Inevitably, little kids in the pew in front of us would turn around to watch Grandma Verna sing, “On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross . . . ” So, maybe it’s a genetic thing. Kind of like being overweight. Some people have low metabolism and some people have big larynx’s. Shout-singing just feels normal to us.
Despite my little problem, I’ve enjoyed singing in choirs and choral groups for many years. Which doesn’t mean I haven’t been politely informed on several occasions that I’m “over-singing.” Still, I find I can hardly help myself. It’s just too much fun to belt out songs like an opera singer with a horned Viking helmet on my head. I have to repeatedly remind myself, over and over again like a mantra: the goal of a choir member is to blend in . . . the goal of a choir member is to blend in.
Adding insult to injury, I’m not only a loud singer, I’m a loud singer with a lot of vibrato, or as is commonly known in the vernacular: a wobbly voice.
“And please folks, (chorus leaders have instructed), could you (meaning me) tone down the vibrato?”
Which is a hard thing to do. Just ask Dolly Parton. Over the years I’ve come to find out what having a naturally loud singing voice means: I’ve got the pipes, but not the training. According to AskaVocalCoach engaging your diaphragm when you sing helps you control your air and your volume . Everyone sings better when they learn how to control their breathing. Even singing more quietly requires as much, if not more, air and breathe control.
Singing at all volume levels and on pitch then, is doable. It just takes a lot of practice. Practice I’m not likely to engage in at this point in my life. I guess I’d rather accept my singing as is. Because really, technical proficiency is only part of the equation when it comes to making music. The other is spirit. And despite my volume challenges and my son John’s pitch problems, these issues have never stopped either of us from singing full-hearted and full-throated–whenever we’ve felt like it. And who would ever want to change that?
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