I used to sing.
For all intents and purposes, I still do. But it’s not as meaningful for me.
Growing up with depression, I struggled to find something I was put on this Earth for. And the first time I sang on my very first day of choir in seventh grade, I found it.
We had an “activity block” for one hour per week where you could choose ‘fun’ classes such as extra gym, cookie decorating, math club, etc. It was blasphemous to me to spend extra time in gym or math class, so I joined the choir the second semester that school year after realizing cookie decorating class was actually sort of useless. My friend had begged me to join, so I figured it couldn’t be any worse than the decorating and I’d at least have a friend.
I was pretty uncomfortable at first because the other kids had already been taught the songs we were to perform at the final concert, but I picked my parts up immediately. Then shortly after my first choir practice started, the teacher reminded the choir that she would be holding solo auditions for a part in ‘Castle on a Cloud’ from Les Misérables that day. I had never heard the song before then and everyone else had already learned it, but she practiced with us for a few minutes before she held auditions and I was able to learn it instantly.
I was pretty shy as a child so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to audition, but something in the pit of my stomach kept telling me to. It didn’t help that my friend told me that solos are nearly impossible to get in our choir, but I felt the need to try anyway. I was so scared to raise my hand that everyone else who was interested had already auditioned and the teacher was asking about any stragglers. Knowing I would regret not auditioning, I shyly raised my hand and took my place by the piano when I was acknowledged. I performed, took my seat, and waited while she made her final decision.
I got the solo.
How often do you try something new against those with experience and are victorious the very first day? I was so proud of myself, my parents were proud of me, and I took my gift seriously. The same month my teacher sent me as the representative of my school to the All-State Vocal Competition. I began singing in my church choir and earning solos there as well. I finally found something I’m really good at. It makes sense – my mother sings, and my grandfather was with a record label and played in the Army band when he served.
I was the best vocalist in my entire school, and I think it saved me. I only had a handful of friends, and I was sometimes picked on for absolutely no reason which stoked my depression. That same year, I was also molested by a classmate. Having already had depression for 3 years at that point, the incident was the next nail in the coffin of my happiness and self-worth. Seeing him every day in school after what he did to me was torturous and humiliating. He even joined the choir for a short time and was the only male – looking back, that behavior now makes a lot of sense. But I think that music, my singing, and the confidence I got from being the best at it are what helped me survive my adolescence.
But everything changed when I got to high school – both positively and negatively. I signed up for every single music class and choir there was, and soon I was making dozens of friends in the music department. Gone were the days of being singled out for no greater reason than childhood cruelty, because most everyone fits in somewhere in high school. But I also realized that music is hard. I was behind everyone else because I wasn’t taught enough about reading music at my previous school. But I worked hard at it, and I learned everything I could about music.
I also realized that stacked up next to seniors approaching adulthood, at 14 I was no longer ‘the best’ in my choirs. Being ‘the best’ at something in my community was the only thing I had in my pocket that made me feel valuable, and suddenly it was gone. I was on the bottom again, a small fish in a big bowl, and I had to learn to find my way back up to the top once more.
So I did.
I vividly remember the day when the two best seniors standing in front of me in choir suddenly turned around to me and said, “DAMN, where did you come from?!” By the end of my Freshman year, I was winning awards at the annual Music Department Award Ceremony, and I was on our conductor’s radar. The day after a talent show or concert I had a solo in, people I’d never seen in my life before would call me by name in the hallway and tell me how great I had been. It was truly flattering, and I have always remained humble about my talent.
I was one of only a few sophomores accepted into the Chamber Choir; my junior year I was voted President of my Concert Choir; and I also ran many of the music department events. I was again sent to the All-State Vocal Competition by my conductor each year, and I won the Best Female Vocalist award both my Junior and Senior years in school, among other awards. I sang at Carnegie Hall in New York City when I was just 16 years old, and when I was 18 I was accepted as 1 of only 300 women in the entire United States to sing in the National Women’s Honor Choir also in New York City. Sadly, my grandfather passed before he was able to see me perform at Carnegie Hall, but I remember looking up at the ceiling and feeling him there with me.
I accepted every invitation to sing that I could in school; I was asked to sing at a government building’s grand opening ceremony, ballgames, a friend’s mother’s funeral, and even Ground Zero just weeks after the terror attacks on 9/11 in New York City. I went to ‘music camp’ over the summer, and even attended my school’s Marching Band Camp before school started just to be around that atmosphere. I realized that music is what makes me truly happy so I submerged myself in it.
After I graduated, I had one of the greatest experiences of my entire life. I actually was graced with the honor of opening for Bobby Vee, Dee Dee Sharp, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees and legends The Platters at a firefighter’s charity concert. Even if they don’t sound familiar to you, I guarantee you’ve heard them all somewhere – movies, radio, parties; these acts were huge in their day (and two are still touring today). Ever see The Wonder Years, Casino, Ocean’s Twelve, The X-Files, Brooklyn’s Finest, or Breaking Bad? The Platters have been featured in all of those, and about a hundred other things. The Platters have singles such as Only You, The Great Pretender, Twilight Time, and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Bobby Vee has Take Good Care of My Baby, Devil or Angel, and Rubber Ball, and Dee Dee is best known for her Mashed Potato Time and I’m Not in Love (originally done by 10CC).
My parents enjoy listening to oldies, and when I was growing up we frequented antique car shows where oldies music is rampant. I’ve always been a bit of an old soul anyway, so I’ve always really embraced everything about the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s – I truly think I was born in the wrong decade sometimes. So I realized what an incredible opportunity I had – I walked the same halls as these legends, drank the same bottled water as them, and had a dressing room just steps away from them. I knew I was in the presence of greatness. I was completely starstruck.
About 20 minutes before the show started, I was backstage standing next to Dee Dee Sharp. Her short hair rested on her shoulders, her makeup was perfect, and she wore sparkling jewelry as thoughtful trim to her glittering, sequined gown. She asked me questions about myself, and I told her what an honor it is to meet her. When we parted ways, she said something to me that I haven’t forgotten to this day – I wished her “good luck” with her performance and she said, “No, honey – that’s bad luck; you always say ‘break a leg’ before a performance, so ‘break a leg,’ darlin’!” as she whisked away through the curtains.
Moments later The Platters showed up backstage in their matching outfits of golden suit jackets and black pants, and a flowing gold dress for the woman. After a small pep talk given by Sonny Turner, they suddenly gathered in a circle and held hands. As if I was part of The Platters, Sonny held his hand out to me and pulled me into their circle. He then led a prayer to bless all of the acts that evening, and to thank God for our talent and the ability to share it with others. We all said, “Amen,” broke the circle, and I got ready to do my set.
After I had performed and before he was to go on, I passed Bobby Vee in the hallway and decided to talk to him. Knowing he had seen my performance, I asked him what he thought and if he had any advice. He paused as if searching for the right words, then said “Your voice is like a ball of crystal, it is so perfectly pure and clear. Just keep doing what you’re doing, you’re amazing.” With tears threatening to come forward, I swallowed, thanked him graciously, and he went on his way after signing his picture for me. It was one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received to this day.
I got to hang out with them all after the show, and even got to meet two of Bobby’s (gorgeous) sons and take my picture with them. It was an absolutely incredible experience, and one I will always remain thankful for. It’s just too bad Twitter was only a twinkle in its developers’ eyes because I would have tweeted the hell out of what happened that day.
After that I joined the Concert Choir and Chamber Choir at my college, and mainly only did karaoke outside of that. I had my first ‘real’ problem with depression around the same time, so I began to not enjoy going to my choirs and eventually stopped signing up for them. After a few years I decided that I missed the choir atmosphere and joined a women’s choir, but the music they chose was garbage and it was way too ‘jazz hands’ for me. I also realized how integral basses are to choral music. So I left that too.
I’ve performed here and there since then, but it’s just not scratching this itch I have. I know I’m wasting my talent, but I haven’t felt particularly motivated to do anything about it (and my mother makes sure to help remind me, too). I know I should have started a band 10 years ago, or at least be performing at nursing homes like I used to. Depression steals your ability to prioritize even things that are important to you, and I understand what “no interest in hobbies anymore” on those depression questionnaires means now.
I’ve felt unsatiated, and wanting to sing has been put in ‘that place’ that I’ll do something about ‘someday.’ But a few weeks ago I saw an advertisement at our usual grocery store for the local Choral Society. It said, “Do you like to sing?,” and when I said “Yes,” I figured I should keep reading. It said they’re holding open auditions for their current season and to come check them out. It was a big step, but I did it.
I went to their rehearsal last week and immediately felt at home. They let me borrow some sheet music, and they were more than thrilled to have me there. Someone else started talking to me before I even sat down, and everyone was super friendly. When I checked out the music, it was exactly what I’m used to – nothing in English, 4-8 vocal parts, no ‘jazz hands.’ The conductor is clearly talented, and the choir isn’t bad. The nostalgia of my old high school choirs hit me and I spent the first half hour of practice holding back tears. One of the pieces is actually an old hymn I had already done in my Chamber Choir. I felt at peace.
Now I’m faced with a decision – is it really what I want? It felt great being there, but it’s a big commitment. I have to commit to being there once a week, every week until the May concert. We travel a lot, I don’t revolve around a set schedule, and quite frankly it stresses me out to have a weekly responsibility. Plus with membership fees of over $300, it’ll irritate me to miss rehearsals that I’m paying for.
But damn, it felt good.
I should stop complaining and just do it. You’d tell me to.