I wish I played an instrument. My parents bought me lessons in both piano and violin, and I had no lasting interest nor talent for either. Maybe most kids don’t, and maybe it’s up to the parents to coax and push their children through. In any case, my parents had enough coaxing and pushing to do while navigating their day-to-day reality of divorce, blended families, and four kids in co-custody.
So, my voice became my instrument of choice. I sung constantly. I sang passionately, and I sang well. That said, no matter how deftly 8-year-old me belted the full score of Annie while gazing out the backseat window, there were only so many Tomorrows my family could abide in any one day. Given that it took us kids 90 minutes to clean the kitchen, my “you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the FACTS OF LIFE! THE FACTS OF LIFE” refrain did not provide an ersatz “hi ho hi ho it’s off to work we go” vibe (more a shut up shut up shut up already vibe). No matter how deftly I crested the full “What a Feeling” Flashdance soundtrack standing on the couch in the living room, no applause greeted me. Unless you count the chorus of slamming bedroom doors. My family would eventually become loyal devotees, but during my formative years they weren’t yet fans. It didn’t faze me. I sung to sing, period.
Singing both filled me and emptied me. It served as an outlet for self-expression at an age too young to make sense of what I wanted or needed to say. It filled me with a longing for the stage that allowed me to dream about my future. I spent hours learning the lead roles to musicals my parents had on 33 RPMs; from Peter Pan and Annie as a girl, into my teenage years studying Luisa in The Fantastiks, Eliza in My Fair Lady, Kim MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie, Morales in A Chorus Line, Hodel in Fiddler on The Roof, Lola in Damn Yankees, Coco in Fame, Marian The Librarian in The Music Man, then Cats, Phantom, Les Miz, and the Disney movie musicals. I went on to play many of these very roles in high school and young adulthood. You can credit my landing those roles with talent and excellent teachers, yes, but especially my early habit of practicing for practice sake, combined with the tenacity and drive that comes with having a dream.
Me as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady
See, as opposed to my experience with attempting to learn an instrument, practicing singing never felt like a chore. Musicals introduced me into a new family–a family that relished a shared electric jolt from tight harmonies, who appreciated the sacred silence of “places” and stood earnestly in tableau behind a scrim as the curtain rose, whose souls burst with joy along with our sunburst arms. Song provided both an escape and a coming home, all at the same time.
Me as Judy “Number 23!” in A Chorus Line. Sunburst arms!
I may never learn a musical instrument, and I admit I sing rarely these days. Had I the means to accompany myself, I think my kids would’ve grown up singing with me and not only at bedtime (although having an opus sure helped calm fussy sleepless babies). I regret that, but also appreciate how in my coming-of-age, music gave me joy and not rote task-master drudgery.
My career coach once asked me to notice what it is I’m doing when time seems to fly by–that these clues serve as powerful guides toward finding work we love. As 2017 begins, I have no plans to learn an instrument, nor to take up singing again in any serious way, but I will pay attention to what I’m doing when the hours fly by–when my heart and mind harmonize, and my arms sunburst.