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Singing a New Song

By guest blogger, Carolyn Cook.

I can sing.

It still feels risky just to write those words, but today I am smiling about them. I took a risk, and it’s really paying off.

When I was a girl, I sang all the time. My mother sang around the house, off-key, but with joyful abandon. She sang hymns and old songs as she cooked and cleaned (somehow combining this with a career as a college math professor). I inherited her love of music. I sang in church choirs and school choruses and high school musicals. I loved it, and I was good at it.

But for reasons I won’t go into here, I left singing behind somewhere in my twenties, and when I became a professional actor I was careful not to put myself out there as a singer. I wasn’t well-trained, so I sounded amateurish in comparison to the amazing belters who did the big shows. I developed a career as an actor in straight plays. I thought that was enough.

But sometime in the last decade, singing began to gnaw at me. Some wild faerie demon angel in me wanted to get out and sing. I wasn’t equipped to help her, because she needed access to my vocal apparatus and it wasn’t up to the task. Any effort just to sing ended in tears and frustration, because my voice tired quickly. I was using it well as an actor, but not as a singer, and I was afraid of doing damage that would ultimately hurt my acting career.

Note the words “I was afraid.”

I was afraid of much more than vocal damage. I was afraid of failing as a singer. I was afraid of succeeding as a singer. I was afraid of making a fool of myself. I was afraid of everything that had to do with growing as a singer. It felt very, very risky.

But I couldn’t ignore the voice within. After failing to break through my barriers with several voice teachers, I found help with Laura. She didn’t teach me to sing, but she helped me give myself permission to welcome the song back into my life.

Slowly, slowly, I inched toward a willingness to open my heart and my voice. I worked with more teachers.  I stuck to it.  I joined a choir, and then a chorale.  I sang a solo in church. I sang poorly, and yet I didn’t die or lose all my friends. The floor did not open up and swallow me. (I wished it would, but it didn’t.) I lived, and I learned from my mistakes. I found better teachers and began making real progress. Somewhere along the way I stopped needing to cry.

A couple of years ago I took a leap of faith and auditioned for a musical.  I didn’t get cast, but I gave a good audition, and I was satisfied.  I thought that was the end of the story, but it wasn’t; a few months ago I auditioned for another musical, and I actually sang with something resembling confidence.  Again, I didn’t get the job, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that I had put myself out there for a musical audition. I had let myself risk wanting to sing.

Then came last Friday. I auditioned for a small part that has a little song. The diretor, who knows me only as an actor, asked me, “Do you sing? I’ve never heard you sing.”

And I said, “Oh yes, I sing. You’ve never heard me, because I used to be too shy to sing. But I do.”

Then I sang.

That’s it. There’s no fairy-tale ending to this. The director didn’t leap out of his chair and beg me to be in his next Broadway production. I just sang my song, better than I have ever sung it, and I knew that something had changed. I’m a singer now. He recognized it, and so did I.

I may or may not get the part. But I’ll never forget what it felt like to say, with complete assurance, those words that once felt so incredibly risky:

“Oh, yes. Yes. I sing.”

This post first appeared on RiskADay.com.

Carolyn Cook is a sometimes peaceful, sometimes frazzled individual who works to raise a daughter, build a marriage, and explore the human condition through theatre, art, music, history, literature, and relationship.