So yesterday I got to sing “Broadway Baby.” Jealous? You should be.
The song ranges from a low G (why yes, I can sing a low G with vibrato) to the B an octave above it, so I pretty much belted the whole thing. It felt great, even if I was less Elaine Stritch/Judy Kaye/Jayne Houdyshell/anybody who has ever sung it in the actual show and more like this:
(Disclaimer: I love Daisy Eagan, even though when I was thirteen I was pretty sure I could have sung Mary Lennox better than she did…but she won a Tony award for it, so I guess she was doing something right.)
Anyway. I was thinking all day yesterday, as I was sitting in my operetta class and shedding actually POUNDS of sweat, about what I was going to blog about today. (I actually have Italian homework to do before class at 10, but let’s be real, how long could that possibly take me? Ten minutes? Twelve, tops?)
What I want to talk about is fear.
Because here’s the thing. For weeks now I’ve been watching my very talented, highly-trained, poised and hilarious classmates get up to sing musical theater or operetta or even pop songs and just falling to pieces.
And that’s something that I had never considered. Certainly, before I had surgery I had a few tearful lessons, where nothing was working, and I had plenty of days where phonating was a challenge. But it would never occur to me to be afraid to sing.
I’m afraid of other things, obviously. Speaking lines, for instance. I had to learn a short dialogue scene in French for an audition a couple of weeks ago, and after flying high through an aria and a Debussy song, my knees started knocking together, my palms got sweaty, and I totally pulled a Hugh Fennyman-as-Apothecary.
(There are no suitable Youtube clips, so I’ll just explain. Fennyman is “the money” and when Shakespeare finishes what is still known at that point as Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter–SUFFERING CATS!–he offers Fennyman the small but pivotal role of the Apothecary, the man who sells the poison to Romeo. And Fennyman is so excited, and we see him backstage running through his lines…and when he gets onstage, he jumps the gun and pretty much skips all of Romeo’s lines. “My poverty but not my will consents!”)
I’m afraid of letting my freak flag fly, of making of a fool of myself. Obviously not on my blog, or I wouldn’t have just compared myself to Hugh Fennyman. But I’m terrified sometimes that if I let myself be who I am, if I let people know that I know every word to every Sondheim musical ever written (well, okay, not really, but better than most people), if I quote an obscure movie or television show or book, people won’t like me. They’ll think I’m a know-it-all. They’ll think I’m not cool because I’m into musicals and books.
But it’s not true. Yesterday, for example, I sang “Jamais les hommes” from Yvain’s Ta Bouche.
After the first time through, Christine told me that it needed to be a bit more militant.
“Oh,” said I, “comme Sister Suffragette!”
“Oui, c’est ça exactement,” she replied.
So we brought up a chorus of women to be my suffrage demonstration, I cried out “VOTES FOR WOMEN!” and stood on a chair to sing my song. Then I led them in a rousing march all over the room. And you know what? It was awesome. The energy was palpable. Now, maybe part of that was that the nerdiness was in English and went mostly unnoticed, but if this year in France teaches me to be less nervous about opening up like that, I’ll take it.
And it’s the same with singing for my classmates–my friends, really. The voice is such an individual, personal thing, that if you’re unsure of what other people will think of it, or if you feel like you don’t know what to do with it, it can be incredibly nerve-wracking to let it out. And then when you’re nervous about presenting that part of yourself to other people, it makes it even harder to delve into the dramatic implications of the words you’re saying, of the situation, of the people around you, because you just have to focus on the singing.
I think if you want to go into the performing arts, singing is the hardest, most vulnerable-feeling facet of it. I watched Colin Firth on Inside the Actors Studio recently, and he was talking about recording tracks for Mamma Mia and seeing stone cold fear in Pierce Brosnan’s eyes when he had to sing. If it’s as terrifying as that for somebody like Pierce Brosnan–who is, after all, James Bond–imagine what it’s like for most mere mortals. But underneath, we had a fear of flying…
So I consider myself extremely lucky to have been born a singer. The pleasure I get from singing just about anything–from Joni Mitchell to opera to “Broadway Baby”–is the most fantastic natural high. I hope my friends can find that in themselves so they can enjoy it as much as I do.
Bisous (or should I say, baci?),
P.S. I told my friend Julie yesterday that I didn’t understand the line in “I Can Cook, Too” about “my fish can’t be beat,” and she said that actually in France, mentions of seafood in that kind of context often refer, rather vulgarly, to women. Apparently if a man asks me out for moules I should be wary.