The Voice (aka. FearBusting #3)

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Today’s Song: Oceans (Where Feet May Fall)

Greetings.

So this post is NOT about the TV show “The Voice” (as entertaining as the show may be).

This post is about fear BUSTING. More specifically, fear #3 – Karaoke.

I wish I could say that I got up in front of a bar, belted out a song while completely belligerent off today’s favorite Whiskey (Four Roses). But alas, that is not how the night ended. No crowds cheering me on, no raucus locals calling for an encore. No gratuitous exit of the stage with applause, clinking of glasses or high-fives.

But that is the vision I have for myself for the day that I finally conquer this fear.

Instead,  I’m taking singing lessons with an instructor where it is just my voice and him. When I first reached out for my instructor (found via TakeLessons) I made sure to let him know that I was working on a personal passion project about building confidence & overcoming all my fears (e.g. karaoke). I don’t know why but I expected my instructor to somehow laugh at me or tell me that he was in the business to train only REAL artists. Instead, he sent me this very nice note:

“Thank you for your response. Building confidence in ourselves is a big part of learning music. Voice is not just our instrument but a part of our self that we learn to share through singing…I hope we can work together to sing better and overcome your fears.”

I arrive at my lesson and meet my instructor for the first time. Our first song? “Row Your Boat.” Now I know we’ve all sang this song as children and that this shouldn’t be hard but when I stood there, staring at the notes and the piano keys, I froze.

Teacher: “Row, Row, Row”

Me: “ACK!” <Turns around and covers face – imagine me as a human sized turtle standing vertically>

Teacher: “Come on, Row, Row, Row”

His fingers trapeze over the keys on the piano carrying the notes from one octave to another. I just stare and start to sweat. I look at him with a fearful and embarrassed look in my eyes.

Teacher: “It’s okay. I know it’s scary. I’ve been singing for 20+ years and I still get nervous. Pavarotti got nervous before every stage performance.”

I look at him doubtfully. Right, expect my voice sounds NOWHERE like Pavarotti’s (nor should it I guess). We then move onto song selection and reading sheet music.

Me: “I haven’t looked at sheet music in over a decade. I don’t think I can remember any of the notes anymore.”

I study the sheet music and try to recall the mnemonic device for reading the notes and the keys. I hear the teacher encouraging me to just stare at the notes and the bars. He plays the first note on the sheet, which is Middle C on the piano.

“Me: <SILENCE> Middle C, Middle C, C…………. D? ……E, F,G…………………and Upper C!”

Teacher: “YEAH! See?! The music will always come back to you. It’s still in there within you. Once you’ve been a musician, you will always be a musician, even if you think you’ve abandoned it. It will always be inside of you. You CAN read music.”

I teared up a bit. I thought I lost this side of myself and recall the moment I started severing music from my list of hobbies. After a traumatic (as defined by my 10 year old self) piano recital, I couldn’t look at the Piano again. I practiced for two months, three times a day for that recital. This was going to be a big musical debut for me. My parents were excited, I was excited and my teacher was so excited that she put me towards the end of the recital program. Over 200 attendees showed up to the recital and families sat in the rows eagerly awaiting their star child to take the stage. At my turn, I walked up on stage and proceeded to CRUSH my first song.

If I had any idea what it meant to be overconfident and cocky back then, that probably would have been the moment. As I bow and sit back down to play song #2, all I could think about was getting to the end of the song, imagining my parents hugging me at the end of the recital and then getting ice cream (or some tasty treat). Then came the screeching halt of SILENCE.

I forgot how to play the rest of the song. After five attempts and awkward murmurs in the audience, I finally remembered how to play the song two minutes later. When I finished I don’t even think I took half a bow. I just ran off stage. The pain of public embarrassment had washed over me and I abandoned Piano & Violin. I never wanted to experience that embarrassment again.

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Teacher: “I want you to remember something when we work together. No one is perfect. You are going to FEEL vulnerable. But we’re all imperfect too. The best way to deal with the embarrassment, the missed note or the discomfort is to breathe and then to laugh.”

Me: “Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Gently down the Streeeeeeeeam…..(I soften). Merrilly-Merrilly (CRACK) Merrily Life is but a Dream (HACK).”

Teacher: “I barely heard you singing over the Piano, but I heard something. GOOD JOB. You did a GOOD JOB today.”

I feel icky, nauseous and my palms are clammy. I wipe them off on the hem of my mint colored dress and grab my song list.

We proceed to pick my “project” song from a very short song list that I compiled:

  • “Apologize” – One Republic
  • “Say (All I need”) – One Republic
  • “Feeling Good” – Nina Simone
  • Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) – Hillsong United

We agree to focus on “Oceans.” There is the right amount of chorus, melody, falsettos and octave range.

I leave the lesson today a bit more humbled, exhausted and uneasy. While that moment of vulnerability was only for a few moments (with someone I hardly know), I feel so exposed and uncomfortable. How bad did I sound? Why do I feel like my heart is about to jump out of my throat and make me throw up?!?!?! I think of the quote, “The fear of looking stupid is holding you back.” I’ve already crossed the bridge of looking stupid so now, I have to choose whether I want to stay looking stupid or if I want to choose to exit this state.

I want to apologize to anyone who may be next to me on the road over the next week. I’ve been instructed to sing my song at least two times a day (if not more) as LOUD and as awfully as I possibly can.

Oh, and may the ears of the dogs in our neighborhoods be spared.

Excel.

Notes:

  • Want to take lessons on anything or offer to teach lessons to locals in your area? TakeLessons was pretty helpful for finding my vocal coach.
  • Want to nerd out on the science of fears? So does Harvard. Read HBS’ take on Nervous Nellies.

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