Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Young Girl Singer

From a journal entry of November 2009...I had a long drive that day that was brightened by my CD of Uncle Harvey Schmidt's 1960s musical, 110 in the Shade, one of my favorites. My journal rambled on from there in an attempt to capture my memories and fantasies of singing...

As children we sang along and danced to the original cast album LP, which had a bad skip in the first verse of one song. I am so deeply imprinted from that, it startles me when the updated recordings of “110” have no skip. My brain knows the words, the timing…and the skip.

Speaking of “skip” – my wonderful Aunt D., with well meaning, has often told the story of the Scholl children dancing around Grandma’s living room to Harvey’s music, but having no rhythm. She doesn’t exactly say “no rhythm” since she is a middle-class white lady, but the point is clear. I know we were jerky and ungraceful but we felt the spirit. In our early years of growing up my brothers and I were exposed only to classical and church music so hey, we did the best we could. (I have had enough nerd self-awareness in my life without repetitions of this story from Aunt D., thank you very much.)

Memories…rehearsing with Mother as my accompanist to sing another of Harvey’s songs, Plant a Radish, from another of his musicals, The Fantasticks. At age whatever (maybe 2nd grade?) I took on an affected adult-aping voice and my mother said only, calmly (but still with maternal punch), “I prefer your normal voice.” Point taken – I went back to squeaky girlish with a Texas accent.

Our home church was small and every choir voice was heard. I remember once telling our youth choir director I would like to be a professional singer, or do a choir solo sometime – can’t remember which of those 2 scenarios and it doesn’t matter, since both were as likely as me becoming an astronaut – but she, wonderfully, said with enthusiasm I could not see through, “I think that would be great!” Bless her heart…and just a week before I had done a junior-high negative pontification on “people who use cake mix cakes” as she was serving us same as her house. (I swear I didn’t know…at least until I took my first bite…that cake looked good but it did not taste homemade! Yes, I have always been a cake snob.)

In my 20s I went through a phase of fantasy where I thought I could play & sing at a small nightclub or at least at private parties…while still in Tomball I played show tunes (NEVER sang along) as dinner music at some school events (the dinner consisting of either catered BBQ or hamburger spaghetti) and at a couple of weddings (of teachers from the school). I knew I would have to ramp up for Dallas so I bought a tape recorder – I didn’t have a piano then but I was bird-sitting (nasty-ass bird, I just threw some seeds at it) for a friend who had a piano and did some practicing at her apartment. Geez – I was so horrified at hearing my jerky, gawky sound on the cassette tape (yes it was the 1980s, so cassette tape) that I called my brother Tim for calming (he kind of took on that role after Mother died). I can’t remember what he said beyond “recording distortion” – I’m sure he was nice, but we are a critical family, of ourselves if not each other, and after talking to him I still ached at the disconnect between how I wanted to sound how I sounded.

I’ll throw in a family compliment for contrast here – not too long after my widowed dad married Mrs. Jordan and she and her 3 school age daughters (the older 2 were already in college) moved in with us, Kristin Jordan told me she admired my singing while I practiced piano. Wow! Kris was/is not one for easy compliments but I explained this one away by the fact that my sound had filtered through a wall of the house, from the music room to the Jordan girls’ bedroom.

Soon after moving to Dallas I filled up a shoebox with scraps of paper – song lyrics. The one I remember most clearly came to me as I was waiting for Dallas Area Rapid Transit, every weekday: “I’ll wait for a bus, ‘Cause the system’s underfunded, And there’s only so much the driver can do, But you’ve had my money – and lots of it – lately, So why should I wait for you?” This was my 20-year old virginal shy white chick version of the blues.

At one point I asked the same nice older brother for tips on learning the guitar, thinking that might be better than piano for a singer-songwriter. He loaned me some guitar sheet music and an old cheap guitar he had, a smaller than typical size, but my soft little finger pads could not get comfortable with the strings and pick of even this miniature version, and I didn’t have the what-for to hang in and suffer long enough to make my girl-singer fantasy a reality.It took a few more years to get rid of the idea of myself as a girl singer – and let’s go ahead and use the French phrase chanteuse, since the whole thing was pretty much a baroque fantasy anyway. Even back when talking to the junior high choir director I saw myself thus: On an empty stage – maybe there was a guitarist somewhere or a pianist, or something/someone else vaguely accompanistic. More important than my accompaniment was my OUTFIT: pale slim-fit jeans, an off-white linen-cotton jacket, a light purple tee underneath, and a flower in my jacket lapel or held in one hand – a purple rose or other long-stemmed flower, not too scented.

It’s not a coincidence that in the romance novel I started in the early 1980s, set in New Orleans, the female protagonist fantasizes about singing in a nightclub. Fueled by sexual frustration (you’d have to read the book, which I’ve never finished) and alcohol she finally acts out her fantasy with a credible Billie Holiday cover in a French Quarter nightclub. According to my draft timeline, the remaining 2/3 of her relationship with the man she lusts for/loves happens after that.

So there IS life after singing on a stage. Not that I would know. And yes, I have had my karaoke experiences, most of them horrible…I think I put that in the notes for another book.

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