18 months ago I did one of the hardest things I’ve ever made myself do.
I sang in public.
What made it so hard wasn’t that I had never done this before, it was that I had. Many times.
I started performing when I was very small. I was in school musicals where I usually had a solo singing part, and at age ten I opened my school’s Christmas service in the local church singing the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City.” At twelve, I was given a lead role in a musical based on Cinderella — I was Prince Yohann.
Throughout high school I performed solos in each year’s choral concerts and sang a duet for our class’s graduation. In college I was the only Freshman with a solo part in that semester’s production of “Allegro.” I sang at friends’ weddings and I was given solos in many performances of the choir of which I was a member.
And then I stopped singing.
Why exactly, I’m not sure. Singing had been the very core of my identity for so many years. The fact that I became a mother right before I stopped may be part of the answer, but that’s too psychologically deep to go into here (I did investigate this in my MA thesis, however). Whatever the reason, by the time I was in graduate school at age 38 and had the chance to perform in extremely informal and fun cabaret, I could not do it. I couldn’t even remember the words of one of my most favorite songs.
I wrote my thesis about reclaiming voice, a metaphor for reclaiming self. It wasn’t until I was deep into my research that I made the — what should have been quite obvious — connection to my singing voice. My singing had been my way of expressing self for years. But I could no longer do that. Singing had become just too raw. Too vulnerable. Too in my body.
Then came my final semester of grad school. And my very last chance at Cabaret. I forced myself to sign up and then I cried. And cried. I was a nervous wreck for the entire 24 hours before the show. It felt HUGE. Like this was a turning point. I was either going to bomb completely or have a break-through.
I did neither. I got up there and I sang. And it felt like the most natural thing in the world. My body knew how to do this.
Today I am at another milestone. After a year of lessons, I am performing in my first formal recital in almost 15 years. I am learning to emote on stage, I am learning to be vulnerable. I am learning to go into body and find, then express what’s there. I am learning that I have a voice and that I have a right to be heard. I’ve never sung this type of music in public before — it is operatic, a style I denied was my true forte because it was so… so… loud. And opera-y. But I will deny no more. I have a voice. I have a talent and I will sing with joy. I will share my gift.
Yes, this is a big deal to me. I need it to go well. Because it is more than a recital; this is Me. Reclaimed.