Commentary: The Fine Art of Singing Badly
Heading across town to your boyfriend's house for dinner, you turn the dial on your radio in search of the perfect song. Before you know it, you're belting out "Big Yellow Taxi" with Amy Grant singing back up. You have become a percussive instrument - your head nods, your shoulders shimmy, and your thumbs tackle base line and syncopated rhythms on the steering wheel. If you were 25 years younger, instead of entertaining yourself in your car, you would be touring the country, performing for thousands with the top ten finalists from American Idol. Simon would love you. Ellen would cry. You are certain of this until you cross the intersection of Queens and Providence and right in the middle of the words "steamroll paradise," you punch the wrong notes with such force that your vocal chords snap and you're afraid that this time you might have actually broken your throat. You feel foolish. But does it really matter? After all, isn't having imaginary talent more fun than having no talent at all? You've been there. In 10th grade chorus, you sat among the altos and tried to hide under your best friend's voice. But before long you discovered it wasn't so easy to conceal a sharp or a flat note from Mrs. Price's pitch perfect ear. So you practiced. In the shower. On your bike. Washing dishes. Folding towels. In college you thought, 'maybe I've improved,' so you tried out for summer theater. After your audition, the director stopped you in the hallway and said, "Sweetheart, I wish I could use you, but I need dancers who can sing. It's a musical." You were crushed. His words poured out like hot, black, wet tar, paving over the wild terrain of your voice. Gone was your paradise of self delusion. Still, you couldn't help but hope that with a little more practice, next summer you'd sound spectacular. You grew up in the country, spending countless summer days making mud pies then marching up and down the dirt driveway, singing "Jeremiah was a Bullfrog" into a teaspoon that doubled for a microphone, so sure that at any moment someone would discover you and whisk you away to star in a Disney movie with Kurt Russell or Herbie the Love Bug. Did your mother laugh into her dish towel as she stirred collard greens while spying you through the kitchen window? If so, she never had the heart to tell you that your gift was making mud pies. When you were seven, you stood on risers in church with your cousin, Carla, and your friend, Pam, singing "Away in a Manger" for the brimming congregation. Afterward you ran down the aisle to find your mother. "Mom, how was it? Was I good?" She beamed and circled her arms around you and said, "Oh, Honey, you were so loud." Savannah Maynard is a paralegal and freelance writer in Charlotte. She's also been known to sing Amy Grant tunes while driving.