Why I would rather be a singer than almost anything else.
My teenager and I were standing in the checkout line on Saturday morning, waiting for the three people in front of us to have their vegetables weighed and their milk scanned. Over the speakers was playing 'Gloria', a song by Olivia Newton John*, one of my favourite childhood singers. I LOVE that song and I started to imagine myself onstage singing it, as I do with most big '70s power vocals. ('Specially anything by Aretha Franklin. I adore Aretha Franklin.)
And then I got all sad that I can't sing like Olivia or Aretha or Diana Ross or Karen Carpenter or any of the other ladies who can seriously belt out a tune, and we were still really behind in the queue, so I asked my daughter: "What talent would you rather have? To be able to sing, to write, or to paint, but really, really well."
She thought for a moment and chose painting. "Because you can really express yourself that way."
I was disappointed. Doesn't everyone want to be a singer? She looked at me. "You'd choose being a singer, right?"
"Totally, I said.
"Okay," she said.She thought for a few seconds. "What would you rather? Be really, really smart, or be a great singer?"
She thought harder. "What about this: be really, really good looking or be a great singer?"
She sighed. "Okay. I have it. Would you rather be a great singer, or would you rather be able to fly?"
I had to consider it for a second. And then I left my singing dreams behind. "I'd rather fly." She smiled in satisfaction.
It's true, though. With the sole exception of being able to take off and land and glide on the wind currents, my greatest desire (and it goes waaay beyond writing) is to have a voice that transports people, that makes them shiver and tremble and soar. I'd love to stand next to a grand piano and sing smoky jazz. I'd love to belt out big numbers and prance around a stage in heels. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. You get it.
Tragically, my dreams of being a singer died about the same time that I realised that I would never, ever be a ballerina. For, oh, so many reasons. (Embarrassingly, I must admit that this realisation came much later than anyone else would have expected.) However, my love of music and being part of performance has never gone away. Now, my dream is not to sing with my own voice. It's to sing, using an instrument.
My absolute favourite time of day is Tuesday morning, when I get to take my cello lesson. It challenges me every single week. I feel like a numbskull and a newbie and a dunderhead every time, but somehow, at the same time, simply by practising and adjusting and practising again, I am learning to play.
My second favourite time of the week is Sunday morning, when I get to join in with whichever musician at church is on that day, and play along with the four or five songs we sing together. At the end of last year I was part of a strings ensemble my cello teacher put together. My part stretched me, and I was probably the least accomplished person in the group but we made some incredible music for three whole minutes. It was the biggest buzz of my year. Just tonight, I played three songs for a smaller group. I could have played eight, I was enjoying it so much.
As a child at boarding school I learned piano, practising every afternoon in the designated practice room at the allotted time. One evening, feeling a bit downcast, I headed to the basement where 'my' piano was waiting for me. It was far enough away from the dormitories to make me feel sure that no one else would be listening, so I played and sang along to my own accompaniment. Then, this happened:
I heard angels singing. Voices, not my own, joining in the hymns that were bashed out under my incompetent fingers, singing high and low, in harmony and rhythm and all in perfect tune. And they were beautiful.
I love music. But mostly, even though I'm not that great at it, I like making music.And if I can't sing, I'll play. Because I want the angels to join in.
*(As a by the by, you may or may not be interested to know that my younger brother grew up thinkiing Olivia Newton John was a band, not a singer. In the same vein as 'Peter Paul and Mary', he assumed that the band name was 'Olivia, Newt and John'. Not interested? 'K. I'll remember that for future reference.)