After the greatness of last week it was almost guaranteed that this week would feel like a disappointment. Perhaps disappointment is too strong a word but nothing fabulous has happened like last week. I was having a hard time thinking of what to write about when I remembered that I have been wanting to write about my voice lessons for some time. I have been taking voice lessons with Hale Center Theater Orem for 3 years now and it is one of the most rewarding things I do each week.
I don’t pretend to be a great singer or have any illusions about a potential career in music. Time for such things has past, but I will say that music and singing has always been a passion of mine. It has always been something I wish I was better at. Something that I wish had been nurtured more by my parents and teachers when I was younger. When I was in high school I had a choir director who was evil (very manipulative and controlling) and who refused to look beyond my bag of nerves and see the potential within me. She was all talk about love, warmth and kindness but when it came down to it she only cared about her vocal ensemble and how it sounded. Instead of trying to nurture talent that was less obvious she refused to give someone like me a chance- which to me is the definition of a bad teacher. In addition, my parents were busy with a new baby (which meant my mom had to be in bed rest for my freshman and into my sophomore year) and did not have time to focus on my music. I am not saying this to complain. It is just a fact.
It is this lack of nurturing that perhaps explains why when I had my own disposable income and time one of the first things I did was sign up for voice lessons. I took them the entire time I was at BYU. I was also in the University Choral twice, which I greatly enjoyed. Dr. Broomhead (isn’t that a great name for a choir director?) was fantastic and my other director Joni (can’t remember her last name) was good too. These lessons were helpful and kept my singing alive but I had so many other disciplines to study that they never really pushed me to become better. Plus, my teachers were students of varying abilities.
So, I went on my mission and sang a lot in Indiana. Sister Hamill and I (now Carrie Carnley), who has a great voice, would even stop people and ask them if they would like to sing a song with us. I remember one man in particular who sang “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam” at the top of his lungs with us. The funny thing about singing on the mission is that it is the one time in my life where the female parts were way in the minority. Needless to say I learned Elders of Israel very well by the time I left, but we would make the elders sing Sisters in Zion every once in a while too!
When I returned home from my mission I started working and almost immediately I found the hum-drum life of a worker to be just that- hum drum. I also had a hard time cutting myself off from work and focusing on other goals. There is nothing worse than overanalyzing something that is already boring to begin with! Particularly working in accounting I became frustrated by the fact that every day was the same. I never felt like I really accomplished anything. Again, this is particularly true in accounting because as soon as you finish a week or a month you start again with the next week or month. I needed a sense of accomplishment in my life- something to be proud of and work towards. Around this same time I attended a show at Hale Theater Orem (one of my favorite activities) and I saw the advertisement for voice lessons. Remembering the fulfillment that music had always given me I called and signed up!
As I mentioned earlier, I have now been taking voice lessons for 3 years and it is one of the joys of my life. Each week I go and meet with my teacher Amanda Crabb. We do funny warm-ups that often make me laugh and then we work on songs. I can’t completely explain how satisfying it is to start a song all wobbly and messy (I am a terrible sight reader) and then in 2 or 3 weeks have it “passed off”. Is it perfect? Of course not, but I think it is good enough that if someone heard me singing they would find it pleasant. Some of the songs I have passed off over the years are:
Think of Me from Phantom of the Opera
Home from Beauty and the Beast
Till there was You from Music Man (my first recital piece)
Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell
I Know the Truth from Aida
Travelin Soldier by the Dixie Chicks
Scarlet Tide by Alison Krauss
Gimme Gimme from Thoroughly Modern Millie
Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant
Someone Else’s Story from Chess
Dreams be Dreams by Linda Rondstat
I Don’t Know How to Love Him from JCS
And So it Goes by Billy Joel
Foolish Games by Jewel
I Can Hear the Bells from Hairspray
Someday from the Wedding Singer (my fifth recital piece)
There’s a Fine Fine Line from Avenue Q
I could go on and on. I have actually passed off almost an entire Hal Leonard Anthology (I have 5 of them! Plus other music). I can’t put into words what it means to me when I finish a song and listen to myself sing something competently. It’s like the inner-child in me screams “Yes, you did it!”. There have been many a week where the only sense of accomplishment I get is from my voice lessons. With each song I also feel creative and inspired by the rhythms, lyrics, melodies etc. Singing honestly makes me want to be a better, more vibrant person. It is a creative outlet that I would miss terribly if it was taken away.
Another blessing I have received from voice lessons is a new level of confidence. Because I was told by this teacher that I was not good enough, that my voice wasn’t good enough, I always had issues with singing in public. Its funny because I got positive feedback from family, friends, companions but I still believed for a long time that it wasn’t good enough, wasn’t beautiful enough. After signing up for voice lessons I learned we had 2 yearly recitals at Hale Center Theater Orem. The idea of singing on the stage of a theater I loved terrified me. I was literally shaking the first time my teacher Dallyn Vail Bayles told me of the recital. I was terrified of getting out on stage and my voice cracking or sounding terrible. I did not have the confidence that I could sing, which is sad when you consider how badly I wanted to sing my whole life.
I don’t know why it took me to the age of 25 to overcome this fear, but I worked hard on the song Till There was You, got on that stage and sang my heart out. The funny thing is that I believe I am at my best when performing for others. I have always thrived on sharing and interacting with groups and this has proven to be the case with singing. Who would have thought this fear of mine was actually a strength? I am not going to say that I am amazing or ready to go on American Idol; however, I always get positive feedback and I think I sound pleasant, pretty good. In fact, one of the directors of Hale Theater told me at the last recital that she looks forward to hearing me sing at each recital because I put my heart out with each song. This is perhaps the greatest compliment anyone could give me. It is not only complimenting me but the teenager inside me that yearned to sing.
I have often said I would give up a meal a day before giving up my lessons. They are a sacrifice, no doubt about it- both in time and money. However, next to attending church and conversing with my family/friends, they are the most rewarding part of my life. When I am sad, tired, grumpy, depressed or lonely I get out my music and for a second the world is better.
I don’t know if any of you have seen the movie “The Kid” with Bruce Willis. In the movie Wills’ cocky and arrogant image consultant is confronted with the 12 year old version of himself. Despite a wealthy career the 12 year old boy is disgusted and disappointed with himself. He says “So, I’m forty, I’m not married, I don’t fly jets, and I don’t have a dog? I grow up to be a loser.”. I love this movie partly because of what it makes me think about. Would the 12 year old Rachel like what she see’s or would I be a loser too? Let’s see she would see an independent girl with great friends, family, her own apartment, returned missionary that sings! (I actually don’t think the single thing would be a big disappointment to the 12 year old me. I have always been weird that way. ) If the 12 year old (and particularly 16 year old) me could see me at Hale Theater singing my heart out before a small audience she would be proud. I can’t explain why but it is so true.
I’m so grateful for my teachers- particularly Amanda Crabb who I have had for the last 2 1/2 years. She is not only a wonderful talent but a terrific nurturer. There are many times when I pick songs that are difficult (See I’m Smiling, The Beauty is, Unusual Way etc) but she always has full confidence that I can learn the songs and you know what- I usually do. She is the best!
I hope by sharing my experiences with voice lessons each of you feel encouraged to be brave and accomplish the dreams of your childhood. It is never too late. There is nothing I can say that I am more proud of than that I sing- I am a singer!