The Folly of Fear
The fear returned down the road of course, but this breakthrough moment fueled a burning passion to bring down the barrier permanently. I chipped away at the mortar for the next 30 years, enduring many horrible auditions, delivering both brave and tentative performances, and making friends and memories.
This brings me to the Autumn of 2006. I’d reached a point where I could no longer tolerate my musical self-sabotage, and I was stumbling down a gravel road in rural Wisconsin, leaving a trail of tears behind me. What brought me to this sorry point? My son was actually the catalyst.
In a twist of karmic destiny, David was born with a gorgeous singing voice. (I swear, we call our children to us so they can embody the parts of ourselves that we resist the most.) He had decided to pursue his love of musical theater, and I’d found him one of the best vocal teachers in Wisconsin to nurture his burgeoning talent. I attended David’s lessons, saw him have breakthrough after breakthrough, and then watched him shine in his first master class recital…all while I secretly yearned. You see, I knew I should be up there too, but I didn’t have the courage.
This was the set-up for my soggy “come to Jesus” moment on that lonely country road. Amidst tears and hiccups, I proclaimed out loud the magical words that would catalyze my liberation: “I must reconnect with Music again,” I wailed. “If I get the chance, I will step through whatever door opens, no matter what it takes, no matter how scared I am, no matter what happens after; in fact I don’t care what happens after (okay I care a lot actually, but I won’t let that stop me), because if I die and do not allow my musical mastery to return, I will regret it forever!”
Let it be known that I did not share this declaration with anyone, yet that following Christmas my husband gave me voice lessons. He gave me lessons we could not afford, seven voice lessons, which eventually grew into three years of lessons, with David’s amazing teacher. It was the best and most terrifying gift I’ve ever received.
My son, bless him, joined me for my first lesson. He sat there in the room (as I had always done for him) and he cheered me on while I shook and cried my way through the hour. I sounded like a choked chicken. I babbled, “This is what happens when you bury your dreams. You end up in mid-life having a break-down in front of your kid. It isn’t pretty. Don’t ever let it come to this!”
Somehow my blubbering broke the spell and everyone started to laugh. My teacher hugged me and proclaimed I was now his new project. He would have taught me anyway, he told me, for the sheer joy of celebrating our friendship; but after hearing me sing he thought I actually had potential. Then he warned me, “No student of mine with actual potential will take lessons from me and not audition for shows.”
This meant I would be auditioning, not just for any shows....good shows…his shows…which were top notch regional productions with top notch people. They flew in Broadway stars for the leads. To be cast in such a show, I would have to bridge my epic vocal break, effectively act a song, put together a resume with a headshot, and perform like a professional in front of a team of directors. (Oh. Dear. God.)
Over the next few months I prepared for my first audition, one that would be conducted strictly for practice. This would give me experience in an actual audition setting without the stress of competing for a role, and it would give my teacher and the staff of his theater company the opportunity to see if I could actually deliver the goods.
The dreaded date of the test audition finally arrived. David came with me and I regaled him with years of audition horror stories while driving to the event. My stories were stunning. He was suitably impressed.
He then glanced over at me with a twinkle, and said, looking sly, “Mom, you need to know my audition secret. You know the boxers I have showing Stewie from Family Guy partying down? Well those are my audition underwear. When I audition, I have a party going on in my pants.” (He seriously said this to me.) “These underpants are my secret reminder that I am auditioning for myself, strictly for the fun of it. The directors will do what they do. I have no control over that. All I can do is sing for myself and enjoy every bit of the adventure.” (Brilliant! I was now the one who was impressed.)
When my moment of destiny arrived, I pulled up my big girl panties and stepped up to the piano. I was nervous, but I sang for the joy of it, and I prevailed. This was by far and away my best audition ever! On the way home, my son confessed that he had listened outside the door; and then he told me (I love this part), “You are the bravest person I know.” I still treasure those words to this day.
Follies of a Different Kind
On a visit to Colorado, I shared my fate with my friend, Joe. Joe is always my cheerleader. I told him the horrifying news about my upcoming audition. He pulled me in front of the full-length mirror in his house and told me to look at myself and own my brilliance. In that moment, Joe’s life was at risk, but Joe was wise and knew he was bigger than me. (To this day I still hear, “Do I have to drag you to the mirror?” whenever I am about to pussyfoot out of something. Joe is a kick. You would love him. Unless you are in front of the mirror.)
The fated day came. I pulled up my big girl panties and went and did my thing. And (drum role, please…) I got called back! I actually had fun at the call back (this alone was a minor miracle), and (pause for effect…) I was cast…in an actual role…as a chain-smoking hard ass (those who know me find this vastly amusing)…a chain-smoking hard-ass with a solo and a tap number.
On opening night, I stood in the wings sweating bullets. The orchestra (I was about to sing with a full orchestra!) began to play my introduction. It was one of those moments when you realize you actually got the very thing you were begging for and you wonder what the hell you were thinking when you asked for it!
My cue landed, I rushed out, sang my bad-ass song in a smokey alto in front of an audience pushing 1,000. I did my tap routine. It was a completely surreal blur. I barely remember anything except the glare of the lights (but evidently my performance was acceptable as I got a good review in the local paper).
This epic break-through led to many other performances in many other shows - I even sang German in an opera! I eventually created a folk duo with a friend of mine, called Crystal River. We sang lovely flowing harmonies, and I got to play my guitar and debut some of my own compositions. Mind you, I would never claim to be a great talent, but I was having a really great time!
The Void Time
During this time I did occasionally play for myself and for my loved ones. I would serenade Joe when he cooked dinner for me, and I would take my guitar on camping outings. Then, when my mom became ill, I played for her.
Something magical happened when I played for my mother. She relaxed, and the energy in the room changed. The fear surrounding disease and death dissolved. Even the nurses commented on it. Mom told me she was hearing my compositions in a way she never did before. The lyrics moved her deeply, and she told me I should write more music. I had not written anything for years.
After she transitioned, I bought a new guitar (a final gift from her to me). I hoped to jump start my musical expression with this purchase, but it wasn’t the right instrument, and it wasn't the right time. Playing it, I only felt sadness. The void was not done with me yet.
Years passed. Then this last October, I went to Hawaii…
Then, a few weeks before I left, something happened that gave me clarity. A dear friend of mine, one who is very intuitive, gave Joe and I a warning. She told us that she was getting the strong feeling that our home might not be there for us when we returned from the islands. Needless-to-say, this was quite disconcerting.
Sensing the truth in her message, I sat with it and called up my own wisdom. I realized I had to let something go, and if I could do so organically, it might not need to be ripped from my hands in such a dramatic fashion. With great surprise and sadness, I discovered it was my three precious guitars. This really bummed me out because I was very attached to them, even though I was not really resonating with them and rarely played them. I made the tearful commitment to let them go, then asked for time to do it gracefully. We were leaving in a week. I promised to release them upon my return from Hawaii.
If you read my blog regularly, you know I purchased a used guitar on the Big Island. I had not expected to buy such a nice instrument, and when I first played her, she awoke something inside me - I remembered my joy! This was a true gift, but it was only the beginning. The purchase of this instrument catalyzed a series of events that would change my life in profound ways. I’ll share about this in my next post.
The laughing was about to get a lot louder.
To be continued….