WHEN THE FAT LADY SINGS….OR NOT

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When I was 46, I decided to take singing lessons.  I had never sung in any kind of choir, nor did people ever tell me that I had a good voice.  It was just one of those things I had thought I might like and since I wasn’t getting any younger,  now was the perfect time.  I found a wonderful teacher who was just starting her vocal school and my daughter and I signed up.  That first year there were four of us.  A five year old, a thirteen year old,  an 18 year old and me.  My first concert was in our teacher’s living room with 8 people there (we could each invite two guests).  My solo was, “The Little Drummer Boy” and I was going to play the bongos also.  I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, so singing and playing the bongos was going to be a stretch for me.  I was absolutely terrified.  My heart was playing “Flight of the Bumblebees” in my chest and someone had replaced my tongue with fly paper.   I can still remember the terror some 12 years later; that’s how scared I was.  It’s funny how you just want to get it over with but as soon as you finish, you think, “Gee, I wish I could do it again”.  I think you realize that it didn’t kill you and no one had an eardrum burst so maybe the second time it would be more fun for you.  Unfortunately, your one shot at stardom is just that….one shot.  So you think next time you won’t be so nervous so you can enjoy it.  Ha! The next time I sang, it was in a bigger venue and there were more people watching and I had to sing an operatic aria in Italian.   Now you must know this, what I lacked in natural talent, I could make up for in volume. Some how I had gotten it in my mind that notes that couldn’t be hit in a normal voice might be hit in tens of decibels.  Well ya gotta give me credit for trying, eh?  I suppose had I practiced more than an hour a week, I might have improved but somehow I never seemed to make the time.   Where I did shine tho, was in “The Ham Factor”.  I loved, loved, loved being on stage singing more humorous songs.  My “Second Hand Rose” was legendary as I made up a costume for the song that had everyone laughing.   But as the years went by and the school got more and more students we no longer were able to do a second song during our recital so there went my talents.  But select students were often asked to perform for special events and I was thrilled to be picked to do a “USO” type show for a group of vets and their guests.  I was to sing, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” dressed up like a vamp from the 40’s.  “In the bag”, thought I.  You know that old saying, “Pride goeth before the fall”?  Well, I fell flat on my face…not literally this time but performance wise.  We normally had our teacher’s husband accompany us on a piano and he was so good that if we messed up, he could play notes to help us get back on track.  This time, tho, we were working with taped music so if you got lost, you were sunk. Let’s just say I sunk faster than the Titanic.  I had been so cocky that I knew the song (doesn’t everyone?) that I skimped on practicing it and when I got out there to sing and messed up on the first verse, I went BLANK.   65 people were staring at me and I was standing there looking like a deer in headlights with my mouth opening and shutting like a fish out of water.  And the music just keeps on playing and I just want the floor to open up and swallow me and I can feel my cheeks flushing with embarrassment and tears of humiliation popping up in my eyes.  It is not a feeling that I ever wish to experience again.  I tried to get the audience to sing along but I think they were too confused at my performance to understand what to do.  And wouldn’t you know it, three people were taping it for our teacher so we could see ourselves and critique it at the next class.  After viewing it, my teacher didn’t have the heart to make me watch it!

My last performance was another aria only this time in French.  I had barely gotten by on my pronunciation in Italian but French was so much harder, since you have to add some odd vocal noises to some words so already I was in over my head.  Does anyone see a pattern here?  There must be some syndrome where knuckleheads like me never learn from their mistakes.  The song was, “Habanerra” from the opera, “Carmen” and it is pretty well known so I wasn’t going to be able to fake my way thru it.  A week before the recital (which now had grown quite large) it was decided that I would just sing the first part of the song  along with the very familiar chorus  since I was struggling with the second part.  Fine by me.  I decided to dress the part and had a large fringed shawl that I was going to wear.  There were going to be three men accompanying me on instruments and they would be on the stage with me.  I thought it would be cool to really play the part of Carmen and flirt with the men while I was singing.  By this time I am 50 years old and mental pause has started so I should have realized that there was no way this side of Glory, that I could remember all the words, hit the right notes and flirt all at the same time.  So I start singing and flinging my ample hips around and swinging my shawl around the men and suddenly I find myself singing parts of the second verse and can’t figure out how to get back to the first verse.  And all this is happening in my mind while my hips are still flinging and I am still singing  and everyone in the audience is smiling away.  Except for my teacher and some of the students who have sung this song before.  They know I am screwed up and I can see the terror on their faces not knowing how in Carmen’s name am I going to get back on track.  I can feel the doe eyes starting and fish gulping is approaching fast when I remember something a great local singer had once told me after I had asked him if he ever forgets the words.  He told me he “La La La’s” until the words pop back and no one is the wiser. (Easy for him to say as I’m sure he has never made guppy faces at an audience in terror.)   So I sprung into some La La La’s until I could figure out how to get back to the first part of the song and I could see my teacher’s face relax  as I found my way back and finished with a flourish and a rose between my teeth.  Ham, baby, ham.   When I walked off that stage, I knew that the fat lady had sung her last song and that the curtain had fallen as I was just too old for that  *&^%.

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3 responses »

  1. Once again, you’ve brought laughter to my otherwise dull life with your descriptive writing. Thank you!

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