My Little Singing Problem

(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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Image Credit:  American Idol     Image Credit:  Little girl singing     Image Credit:  Dolly Parton

 

 

These Kids! Warning: the Generation Gap Lives!

(Who are the Millennials?  Why do techy people like nature?  How did fighting with our parents’ generation make us better?)

“They may not want a traditional family,” my son-in-law, Simon, told me explaining the difference between his generation and the Millennials, the 20 and 30-year-olds he works with as an engineer.  We were watching Simon’s children, my grandchildren, building a science project at the kitchen table.

“Yeah,” I said, “They’re just a bunch of slackers.”  I was being flippant, but Simon wanted to make a point.

“What?  No, no, that’s not what I mean.  Millennials work hard too.  They just have different ideas.”

I’ve been largely oblivious to the new generations coming up, the “Z’s” and the “X’ers.”  These alphabet labels make the next generation sound like they just stepped out of an elementary classroom instead of into adulthood.  I’d trade being called Baby Boomer for Generation W (standing for “wise,” of course).  Baby Boomer sounds like the nickname for an overweight football player.  Or Baby Boomer is a big puppy that drools a lot.

Every 20 years or so we have a new crop of young people entering the work force and needing a label.  All these generational lines have blurred for me.  Maybe because I’m retired now.  There’s no need to compare salaries and work styles.  I don’t fear becoming irrelevant at the office.

But my ignorance doesn’t change the fact that with each generation there are new ways of being and doing that challenge past generations.  Millennial author, Noah Strycker, echoed my son-in-law’s comment.  He said 30-somethings were less family-oriented and more narcissistic. But they love nature and the outdoors, ironically, because they are so wired-in and techy.  Millennials know how to app information about any animal, rafting trip, or hiking trail within minutes, if not seconds.

Some age groups clash more than others though, and not just related to the work place.  I drove my mother back from her cardiologist appointment yesterday and she casually commented that her granddaughter, my niece, was living with her boyfriend.

“Mom, I can’t believe you said that.  Would you listen to yourself?  Forty years ago you had a near melt-down when I suggested living with my boyfriend.”

“It’s still wrong!  The institution of marriage is being trampled on.  This younger generation just doesn’t seem to care . . .”

My parents are good people but as a baby boomer, I experienced far more generational conflict between them and myself, than I do between me and my own children.  I remember my dad shaking his fist at the evening news on TV as he watched footage of long-haired hippies living in communes and trespassing on private land.  Of course, our generation responded in kind.  We sang songs with lyrics that said:  “What gives you the right to put up a sign to keep me out—and keep Mother Nature in?”  Our generational divide was popularized back then as a generation “gap.”

Though I get along with my own children better than my parents did with me, I may be taking credit where none is deserved.  Sociologists tell us that my parent’s generation, the generation born at the front of the Great Depression, experienced not only a major economic crisis, but also a world war.  Their age group is known as the Silent Generation for good reason.  They like peace and are risk-adverse.  They don’t like rocking the boat.  Understandably then, they had trouble with the loud protests and counter culture movements we baby boomers engaged in.

The Silent Generation or the Greatest Generation if you prefer, are slowly leaving us. 

It’s exciting to read about Gen-X’ers like Elon Musk, the Tesla engineer, or Greta Thunberg, a Generation Z’er whose passion for climate politics is igniting change.  But as we embrace these younger people and their achievements, we cannot forget the smart, brave generation that came before us.  We fought with them, yes, but it’s often the clash of ideas, from one generation to the next, that define us.  That struggle, can and does, propels us forward.

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Image Credit: Millennials     Image Credit: Noah Strycker’s book     Image Credit: Greta Thunberg

Fifteen Minutes of Fame is Best

(What’s in your toothpaste?  Why should we remember David Crosby?  Whose buried on our farm?  How many statues of Lenin are there in Moscow?)

Have you ever brushed your teeth with Colgate’s “Total” toothpaste?  The one with the nice minty smell?  Every peppermint harvest here on the farm I remember how the Colgate-Palmolive company bought our peppermint oil, the oil we distilled from our peppermint crop.  They used it in their Total brand toothpaste.  I think it’s our biggest claim to fame.  What’s yours?  Did you win a jackpot at Jackpot, Nevada?  Are you the aunt of an almost-famous singer?   The brother of a championship athlete?  Maybe the local newspaper wrote about your incredible lab that was lost at Wild Willy hot springs but found its way home, 500 miles north to Boise, Idaho.

Almost everyone has their 15 minutes (or seconds) of fame: their picture framed as employee-of-the-month or their name listed as a donor for an important cause. They even might write a blog that some people like to read.  It’s heady.  It’s intoxicating. It’s very short-lived.

One time I had to rent the old movie, Rudy, about a Notre Dame football star, because my brother Dan was in the film.  He’d responded to a casting call for movie extras, and got a part. Dan played a security guard at a Notre Dame game.  I sat through most of Rudy waiting to see my brother, the movie star.  Finally, near the end, I got a brief glimpse of Dan’s face as the camera panned the crowd in the football stadium.

Some people want more than 15 minutes of fame though.  They want to not only be known, but remembered.  I thought about the “Emily Doe” who was a victim of rape four years ago.  Last month she published a book about her horrific experience, using her real name, Chanel Miller, as the author, and titling it: Know My Name.  And then there’s David Crosby, the folk-rock musician, whose biopic this past summer was entitled: Remember My Name.  Why, I asked myself, should we remember David Crosby?  I mean I liked his music, but he’s not Jesus Christ.  He’s not even Elvis Presley.

Being a ruler or a monarch doesn’t necessarily gain you lasting fame either.  Only a select number of world leaders manage to make it into our history books—and some of those may not deserve all the attention they get.  We only know about King Tut because of the way he was buried.  A minor ruler, King Tut is celebrated largely because of his golden image sculpted on the surface of his magnificent burial sarcophagus.  Somewhere on our farm a pioneer man or woman are supposed to be buried whose accomplishments likely far surpassed King Tut’s. We know for sure they endured the danger and hardship of crossing the Oregon Trail so they could find a better life for themselves and their families.

Often dictators and authoritarian rulers attempt to extend their fame, their time in the public eye, for as long as they can.  They want to cement their power.

The Hitlers, the Lenins, and the Maos made sure their names, their images, and their words were everywhere.  The result being that today, there are 80 Lenin statues in Moscow, alone.  In China, Mao’s image is plastered on walls and billboards everywhere.  If these autocratic leaders were alive now, no doubt they’d have their names emblazoned at the top of casinos and towers.  They’d be tweeting feverishly every day, sending messages out to their followers.

But fame is fleeting—and that’s a comforting thought.

Some people can be in the spotlight too long.  They can overstay their welcome.  Fame, by its very nature, is bright and brief.  Our attention spans are short, and besides, there are many others waiting in the wings with new thoughts and other stories, better stories, to tell.

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Image Credit: Total toothpaste       Image Credit:  Know My Name         Image Credit:  Trump Tower

I’m Going Back to the Plough

(Which is better: city life or country life?  Why do people move?  How big is Boise, Idaho?)

I’m moving out of the city and going back to live, full-time, on the farm.  According to Allied Van Lines moving is not that unusual since in a lifetime most people change homes about 11 times (my mother moved nine times within a five-year period).  The majority of moves people make are local, from an apartment to a house in the same city, for example.

But people in my age group, the baby boomers, are the least likely of any demographic to make a big move. 

Generally, older adults have finally paid the mortgage off and are unwilling to take on any new debt, especially house loans.  And if they do change homes, they want to live closer to town, not further away.  They want to be nearer their family, goods and services, and especially medical facilities as they age.

None of those issues mattered to me though, when I decided to move back to the farm.  I simply wanted to find more peace and quiet and less rush and riot. I saw Elton John’s biopic, Rocketman, this past summer, and while I was packing boxes for my big move I found myself singing along with Elton’s “Yellow Brick Road”:  “So goodbye yellow brick road, where the dogs of society howl, you can’t plant me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plough…”

The farm does have plows, which means work, so the lifestyle has not always been my panacea.  The first twenty years of my married life I plied, if not plowed, our farm.  I remember walking field roads dreaming of city streets and city lights.  I’d become a hay seed, but I longed to make hay in the big city.  I couldn’t shake wonderful memories of being a young college girl in downtown Philadelphia.  I loved the beautiful fountain at Logan’s Circle with the sculptured winged gods spouting water.  Down the boulevard from Logan’s Circle was the magnificent Philadelphia Art Museum.

I finally got the chance to leave the farm once my children were raised, and after I’d made a career change.

I moved to the biggest city around: Boise, Idaho, population 226,570.  It wasn’t the Big Apple but it was a fairly Large Potato.  When I made that move a farm girlfriend of mine asked me, “What does the city have that the country doesn’t–besides shopping?”

I thought (but didn’t say): you plebian!  A country girl could never understand the excitement, the energy, of so many people working and thinking and creating, in one big, buzzing place.  Even Michelangelo said, “I have never found salvation in nature.  I love cities above all.”

But I came to discover my plebian friend had a point.  Though cultural centers, cities are shopping meccas for most people.  In terms of daily living, this is their biggest draw.  It took some time, but eventually I found the gridlock and traffic jams a poor trade for the peace allotted to those who live among the wheat fields.

Another friend, Donna, said, “Won’t you be bored living out on the farm again?”

Maybe.  But I’m beginning to understand the upside of boredom, how it motivates you to engage with all the little things you missed before, like the litter of kittens out by the barn.  Besides, every day’s not meant to be a bell-ringer.  If you can’t stand the lethargy of time, you’ll die young—or at least sooner from rushing about so much.

So, it could be I’m moving back to the farm to save my life—or savor it. 

Really it doesn’t matter. If I’m honest, it’s how you live, not where you live that matters.  Early this morning in the dark, I opened up the back patio door on the Snake River rushing past.  When I looked up, a spray of stars twinkled in the sky.  I took a big breath, and smelled the freshly cut hay in the field next to our house.  Mornings on the farm are the best.

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Image Credit: packing boxes        Image Credit:  Rocketman        Image Credit:  old barn photo by Diana Hooley