Learning to Sing
- Three years ago before I met John, my Match profile ending with a PS:
My voice is somewhere between Marian Anderson and Marni Nixon. Haven’t sung in public in a while but could be persuaded to get back in vocal shape.
I tried, a little; I took Claude Stein’s Natural Singer workshop one October when he was in town and demonstrated to myself that indeed I could sing, but that weekend was nonetheless emotionally painful. The class left me even more bereft–ability, but no hook. No interest in roughing-up my voice to sing the Blues; not operatic, choral music required a time and travel commitment I couldn’t make; no way in. I could play the piano a little but no so well as to accompany myself and there I was, all warmed up and no-where to go. So I could sing while I hooped, but THAT’S a skinny market…
And there I left it, pretty much, for the next two and a half years. John and I were in Tony Sullivan’s store the other Saturday, picking up the Kay Archtop he’d had repaired, and I was touching the instruments (and checking out price tags) and thinking it would be kinda neat if I could play but not $250-for-a-cheap-instrument and more for lessons and all that time-to-learn worth of neat, and maybe a mandolin? But they have 8 steel strings and that’s going to hurt. Shake it off and focus on my own art and just let it be.
That decision lasted maybe two weeks.
The other weekend, John asked if I wanted to learn to play the guitar. Did he notice my thinking at Tony’s? Don’t know. I do know it was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed; John owns a pile of guitars and plays easily; plays all the time, actually, and sometimes performs. Too soon to tell if we’d ever perform together but it was a step to take. So he showed me some chords and off I went.
It took a little web research to figure out those chords once I’d forgotten what he showed me, and then more to get to some lessons, and when it was clear free web lessons weren’t going to cut it for me, a little more searching took me to Bruce Emery’s Skeptical Guitarist series, and I was home.
Started playing around with the beginning chords. It didn’t take too long to realize that chords alone are no fun. Moreover, I don’t like the songs in the beginning books. Off to find songs that use the chords I know / am learning how to play, but that’s not the way songs are identified on the web, apparently. Too easy to transpose. Songs don’t appear to be sorted much by the number of chords used, either, which would be a useful list for me at this point. One website pointed out that many hymns use only three chords, but not a one of my collection of hymn books, including the Unitarian, identifies guitar chords. Need something a bit newer age, I guess.
For now, I have a few. Amazing Grace is the starter song; it feels good on my voice, I know the tune, and it can’t hurt to sing it through all the way three or four times. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot just entered the list this morning. I have a longer list of songs I want to learn over time, and in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “I need 100 songs I can sing and play, and then I’ll see what happens.” This is parallel to my 100 Rugs plan, which in turn derived from the “paint 500 hearts” plan which ended at 150 with enough understanding to get me to a new place in my own art.
So here I am, three plus years after the original offer, getting my voice in shape. Never realized I needed to have my own instrument, too. That wasn’t anything my voice teacher or choir director pointed out. It just doesn’t make any sense to practice the guitar without singing along.
Originally written March 29, 2008