Face Your Fears and Feed the Birds

My goal for August is to take singing lessons and (I’m hesitant to even say this next part) ultimately record a video of myself singing (with a friend, I’m not committing to a solo of any sorts) before the end of the month.  Here’s a little background and prep I did before August 1.

My #1 fear in life (other than the dark, scary movies, and swimming in the ocean) is singing in front of someone.  Most people are scared of things like heights or public speaking but I am terrified to sing in front of anyone.  This goes so far that I don’t even sing in church for fear that someone will hear me, like God, and then He won’t let me in Heaven.  Well, He’ll probably let me in Heaven, but definitely won’t put me in any sort of angel choir.  I spend most worship songs praying I won’t have the fear to sing anymore.  I’ve never been in choir.  I’ve never sang in front of anyone – with the exception of ridiculously high notes to be silly…leading to my friend, Matt, saying that I have “a high note only dogs can hear.”  I don’t even sing happy birthday when I’m in a group of people who are singing happy birthday to someone – that’s why my own birthday is the best, no pressure to sing for myself.  I have literally sang (“sang” sounds like bad English?) in front of someone 1 time in my entire life and it was so scarring that I obviously remember the whole experience.

In 6th grade, I decided on a whim that I wanted to audition for the Sound of Music (go figure).  I told my mom about it a few hours before the audition, she took me to Walmart to get a new dress, she drove me to the audition, and there was my worst nightmare – I had to sing with someone who was playing the piano while my mom sat on the other side of the curtain.  I don’t know how I thought I’d play the part of Briggita or Louisa and sing in front of my new stage mom, Maria, if I wouldn’t even sing a note in front of my real mom, Lisa.  I sing what they ask, I am humiliated, my mom says ‘that wasn’t half bad,’ we rent the Sound of Music and discuss what part I’ll get.  I didn’t get a call back.

As for prep for this goal….the last week of July, I stopped by Michelle Tuesday’s Music School in Gahanna (where Angela is a manager and teacher) and signed up for singing lessons.   I signed up for 1 month worth of lessons which includes 1 lesson per week for 4 weeks.  Due to vacation, I had to sign up for 3 weeks worth of lessons with the last one being a double.  The lessons are 40 minutes long with 20 minutes of singing and 20 minutes of music theory via computer lessons.  I register.  I receive a receipt that says “private singing lessons.”  I feel very snobby/real housewives-esque.  I decide to be open minded and willing to do whatever crazy exercises and sounds this month brings.

Aug 1:  My first official lesson doesn’t start for a few days and I didn’t think singing in the car really qualified – so I turned to YouTube, of course.  I consulted with Angela first and she recommended some vocal warm up videos.  Like some of my other “new thing”-type of goals, I decided to commit at least 30 minutes a day to this adventure.  I ended up practicing for an hour!  Fortunately, Chris was playing a marathon of softball games so I had the house to myself.  I found a YouTube video by a guy who led me through body warm ups – this included things like raising your shoulders and dropping them, small coughs so you can feel when your diaphragm tenses, among other things that are supposed to allow you to relax your neck and shoulders.  I liked the guy so much that I ended up just continuing several of his videos.  Apparently, everyone must like him because his videos had over 3 million views!  The second and third videos had me doing lip rolls (keep mouth closed but blow air out of your mouth between your lips (ugh, this is probably the first of many weird descriptions this month)).  He had me go from high to low notes, low to high, etc.  If nothing else, this served as a way to get comfortable just making musical (or something) sounds in general.  I am SO reserved with singing that even humming, lip rolling exercises, etc can feel awkward, even when home alone.  I did record a video of myself doing some of these exercises and sent them to Angela posing questions about why I’m doing this.  “This” being loose and applying to the whole darn thing.  She warns me about something called vocal sirens and how fun they’ll be. 

I finished with a lesson given by a lady whose voice sounded like one of those people who would pick up if you called one of those phone numbers they print on the cards they hand out in Las Vegas….if ya know what I’m sayin’.  In any case, she had a 15 minute video singing different notes with the piano.  I would actually do this lesson again.  It was a good warm-up (for what performance, I have no idea) but I felt like my skill level was about a 6….okay….let’s be honest…I can be overly confident sometimes…I was feeling like a 7, possibly a 7.5…had I been showered and not in sweat pants…I would’ve been an 8.5.  I felt so good about myself I even recorded the audio and sent a sound bite to Angela, Chris, my parents, and another friend.  I am literally 60 minutes in and deciding I don’t care about looking dumb anymore.

Practicing body and vocal warm ups.  I’m not sure why they said to put your fingers on your cheeks, but I didn’t ask questions.  I was also gazing out the window to make sure no neighbors were close enough to our house to hear me.

singing day 1

Aug 2:  I decide to listen to the audio recording I did the day before with the lady with the “Vegas voice” and try to repeat the exercises.  I do this in my car.  I forgot my headphones so it was hard to hear my phone and overall not that productive.  I think having headphones in while driving is illegal anyway but I haven’t confirmed.

Aug 3:  I practiced in the car again for 30 minutes while driving.  I did the lip roll exercises again and tried singing a song without any music.  I didn’t know what I was doing besides murdering perfectly good songs.  My lessons start tomorrow.  I’m lost until then.

Aug 4:  The day of my first singing lesson ever.  The moment I have avoided my entire life.  The time has come.  Flashbacks of the Sound of Music audition linger.  This goal is about facing my fears (and the possible unveiling of a hidden talent with a record deal and a tour bus and entourage).  The day was busy from 5:45am spinning to back to back meetings and leaving work at 6:30pm.  I think God steered me to a busy schedule today because I didn’t have 1 free minute to think about the singing lessons or come up with excuses to bail on the lesson, this goal, this blog, and everything I ever set out to do.  I had 10 minutes by the time I got home to change clothes and head out.  I opted for an organic fruit smoothie type of drink because I was afraid if I scarfed down the pre-made meals I had in the fridge I’d end up with hiccups.  I wondered if I was supposed to be drinking tea.  That’s a singer thing to do, right?

I was nervous before I even left the house and the whole way there I was swaying between ‘I’m doing it, who cares if I sound bad, this isn’t a big deal, what if I’m actually good?’ to ‘why did I say I’d do this?  what if I’m horrible?  what if Angela can hear me because I know she’ll be there teaching.  why didn’t I wear a scarf to cover my neck if it gets red?  what if people think I’m dumb?’  Ah, the ole “what if they think I’m dumb” trap that stops us oh so many times!  Whoever “they” is.  I decide to ignore “they” and carry on.

Flashback to the end of last week – Angela invited me to an adult recital at the music school.  It was for adult students, it brought a small yet non-threatening crowd, and it showed me that other people are just as nervous/putting themselves out there as me, so I will say my nerves were a little less than they would’ve been without that.  The school itself is a very non-threatening environment which is super important to me and probably any other adult student!

Anyway, I show up and tell them it’s my first lesson tonight.  The person working the front desk asks me what color folder I want.  I choose green because my mom always says green means money…and I just recently won a jackpot.  I’m not sure what goes in the folder or why I need it, but I loved having a folder and being a student of any kind.  She tells me I’ll be in studio 3 and then I take my own advice of asking questions when you don’t know what’s happening or you feel dumb – and so I launch into “so is she going to come get me, or do I just go to studio 3 at 8:00, or does she come get me, or do I just go to studio 3 at 8:00?”  Studio 3 was visible from where we were standing so it’s not like it was rocket science, but I’m facing my life’s biggest fear….no detail can be missed.  She tells me either is fine.  I decide I’ll wait until they come get me.

As I sat in the lobby I looked at the TV the girl at the front desk pointed me to which had all the current lessons going on/upcoming.  I saw my name on the screen yet lost all common sense and couldn’t figure out how to read it.  You’d think “8:00pm” and “Brooke – voice” being on the same line would be obvious, but when your body is overcome with stress and fear you really just can’t function anymore.  I keep reading my name as Brooke Ignet on the TV and think how naked it looks without Hocker at the end because I only gave them my maiden name since that’s what it says on my credit card.  My own name suddenly looked so foreign.

It felt like I was in a doctors office lobby.  Every time a door would open or someone would come around the corner it was like I was just waiting for a nurse to say “BROOKE” very loudly and then weigh me with all my heaviest clothes and shoes on.  Meanwhile, an adorable little girl in the lobby was hiding from her dad.  She felt like tucked behind my chair was the perfect hiding spot.  I wanted to join her.

At 8pm on the dot the nicest person ever named Sarah appeared in the lobby.  She is subbing for who is my soon-to-be teacher, Amanda.  Sarah shakes my hand and takes me into studio 3.  Simultaneously, Angela appears from thin air as she was teaching a lesson across the hall.  I instruct her in a mom-like tone that she is to be nowhere near studio 3 – she gets it – she gives me the reassuring/non-threatening look not to worry.  I appreciate that about her.  I don’t like people who torture each other or pull pranks.  I hate pranks.  Angela says “did you tell her what you’re doing” (referring to this blog) and Sarah the teacher says “oh, I read your blog.”  Sarah….if you’re out there in the blogosphere, I’m giving you a virtual high five.  Yesssssss!  So, I got to bypass the back story of the goals and the blog, I even left out the part about my aspirations to be Briggita or Louisa and we dove right in.  I’m feeling comfortable and happy.  Maybe I can do this!

Sarah starts with warm-ups that sound like laughing but that perfectly match the notes she’s playing on the piano.  Well, she perfectly matches the notes on the piano.  I sound like someone trying to semi-laugh/not have anyone hear them.  She moves into other warm-ups that include singing things like “ni neh nah no noo” (or something like that).  She sings it first, I sing it with her, I convince myself we’re in perfect harmony, I suddenly don’t feel stupid in the slightest.  Occasionally I’d panic on the inside when she’d say “…and now just you…” signaling that I should sing the next bit by myself.  It was awkward but she was so positive and motivating that she never flinched when the sounds coming out of my mouth were squeaky and way off.  She convinced me I was great and I believed her.

10 minutes in and I’d go as far as saying I was enjoying it.  The fear was melting away and practically non-existent.  I felt comfortable in our little studio room and suddenly forgot anyone could possibly hear me outside the door.

She tells me I’m an alto.  I begin to feel like I have an official place in the music world.

As we get ready to move into singing a song, she tells me she has a Disney book, Broadway book, and something that has to do with Italian opera with a fancy word I forget.  I tell her Disney sounds too kid-like, the Italian thing sounded like too much/something I’d need a fancier outfit for, so I land on Broadway.  I’m envisioning nailing “Defying Gravity” from Wicked by 8:20pm.  We land on “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins.  Secondary option was something from Sound of Music.  Been there.  Failed that.  She tells me that we’ll just focus on the notes by singing “la” instead of the real words.  I keep thinking of the 33 years I’ve heard my mom sing this song in a combo of a British accent/high note/creepy/humorous way.  I decide not to tell Sarah that part and follow her lead with the “la’s.”  By 8:17 I break the news that I keep forgetting it because I don’t know how to read music and my attempts at memorizing the notes were failing me in the final leg of my ‘facing my fears’ quest.  Sarah makes me feel like I’m doing a great job and I start to wonder if we should be real life friends.

The singing part of the lesson comes to a close and I tell her how she has made this experience 10x better than I expected.

I make a mental note to text my mom about “Feed the Birds.”

I hit “done” on my audio recording (I recorded the whole lesson).

I am elated with my accomplishment and debate hugging Sarah and doing a selfie.  I follow her to the computer lab instead.

Another girl set me up on the computer/headphones where I’d be doing a 20 minute music theory lesson.  If I’m in this thing, I’m in this thing.  I want to learn it all.  She shows me how to sign in and tells me the password.  I think about how Chris and his masters degree in Computer Science would disapprove of their simplistic password and lack of special characters.

I learn about a music staff (the 5 lines), I am given a refresher on the ole “Every Good Boy Does Fine” and “Face” and am introduced to “All Good Boys Do Fine” and “All Cows Eat Grass.”  I don’t remember the Tipp City elementary school introducing those last 2 to me, but I got 10 out of 10 on all the exercises they had me do.  I learned about a treble clef and a bass clef which looks like a sidways frowny face.

I finish up the computer work and am greeted by Angela on the way out.  I am the last lesson in the building and make a joke about closing the place down.  My demeanor walking out is a 180 from walking in.  I tell Angela and the girl at the front desk that I faced my fear and should probably get a tattoo of a music note now.

I listen to the recording of the lesson all the way home.  I realize I sound horrible.  I realize I love Sarah even more for not making me feel stupid.

I feel amazing.  Not because I sounded great in the slightest, but because I faced a huge fear!  Now, I’m not saying I’m ready to post audio of my lesson or sing in front of someone who isn’t my new bestie named Sarah yet….but….I did it!  There’s still plenty of time left in the month for the rest.

I will say, it was nice to just put on normal clothes and go do something that wasn’t work or working out.  An unexpected benefit!