Both of my spouses were confident and talented singers. My first has a beautiful tenor voice and during our marriage, she took weekly lessons; opera was her repertoire of choice. (When we were together, she acted as a man. Now, she is living her true self as a transgender woman.)
My second husband, Tommy, also had a lovely -- a more cabaret voice -- and although he died in 2012, I like to think of him still singing around a celestial piano.
My spouses' voices came to mind because I'm currently taking lessons. Perhaps my envy of their ease with singing sparked this new quest. I have no desire to perform, but since I can, sort of, play Broadway ballads -- admittedly in my own tempo -- I want to sing along as I plunk.
I told my new voice teacher that I signed up because I couldn't sing. After a few basic exercises, she said, "Who told you that you couldn't sing?" I smiled, as happy as if she had announced I won the lead in a popular musical.
"I can sing well enough when elbow-to-elbow with someone who has a strong voice," I told her. "But in a previous class, when I had to sing solo, my voice ricocheted." I was trying to be funny, but whenever I think about that time, I still feel embarrassed and disappointed.
"Singing is a skill that can be learned," she said. "All you need is pitch, practice, and confidence."
Because I have progressed -- albeit to a satisfyingly mediocre level -- in lifelong pursuits like piano, swimming, and Spanish, I believe the same path might apply; hence my enrollment in private study at Old Town School of Folk Music. If I learn some of the skills, and if I practice, perhaps I can be a so-so singer. That would make me happy.
Now, I'd like to tell you more about my spouses and their voices. My first's foray into singing on stage came during a brief time our family lived in a suburb of Chicago. We had joined a community theater group, and she played leading roles in several Gilbert and Sullivan musicals. I stayed behind the scenes.
When my family left the suburbs and moved to South Commons, a community on Chicago's near south side, I recalled my spouse's enjoyment of performing, and I persuaded the ecumenical minister in charge of programming, to launch a musical theater company.
The South Commons Musical Theater mounted several Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and a few Rodgers and Hammerstein classics. In my favorite, "Carousel," my spouse took the role of Mr. Snow, and our daughters (about eight and nine years old) joined her on stage as Snow's children.
Alas, neither Gilbert, Sullivan, Rodgers, or Hammerstein could save our marriage; we divorced after 30 years.
But I married again, in 1998 to Tommy, who loved to sing but never aimed for the stage. His favorite spot was standing next to our piano crooning, "Blue Room," while I plodded along key by key. Once, I asked him what career path he wished he had taken. "Lounge singer," he had said, his face lit as if a spotlight was already focused on him.
Ironically, this sweetheart who loved to use his voice, in 2009 developed a brain degeneration that eventually robbed him of all speech; and cruelly, song. Oh, he did have several sessions with a therapist to see if she could tug words from brain to mouth, but any progress was crushed by a more powerful foe.
Tommy died four years ago and his framed photo sits atop my upright. I begin each practice session with a wink to him and then a leap into syllable sheets that has me stretching through do, re, mi, and more. Once warmed up, I turn the pages of my three-ring binder to songs previously practiced with my piano teacher.
I play and sing my repertoire, which includes: "Bewitched," "When Sunny Gets Blue," "It Never Entered My Mind" (Tommy's and my favorite), "I'm Glad There is You" (I marched down the aisle to this), "But Not For Me," and "Blame It On My Youth." I can hear you humming along, dear reader. It's lovely to croon, isn't it?
Now that I'm taking voice lessons, I try to sing loud and confident, not worrying if the notes are a bit askew. Neighbors on my high-rise floor, on their way to the trash chute or elevator, can likely hear me. Some may shake their heads at my amateurish belting, but no matter. My voice teacher told me I can sing.