Am I America's worst singer?

Humiliating myself for fun and profit.
June 22 2005 1:25 PM

Song of the Damned

I'm tuneless. In four weeks, I make my concert debut.

(Continued from Page 1)

My daughter chimed in. "Mom, I don't think you should do this in front of an audience."

"Why not?" I asked.

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"You want to help people keep their sanity."

But I went on. During our month of weekly lessons, Deborah remained kind and encouraging. There was no doubt I was making progress, the drills and the breathing exercises allowed me to actually get out a line of a song without seizing up into a squeak. She taught me how to make the leap between chest voice and head voice and to bring my sound forward into the front of my face, where it resonated better. But an irresolvable problem was that even if I wasn't horribly off-pitch, I knew the sound of my voice was not pleasant. Deborah dismissed such negativity.

She said that singing was not just a matter of making a pleasing sound—which was good news for me. "A singer is a storyteller," she explained. "If you tell the story the song will sing itself. What makes a singer memorable is evoking a mood and a memory."

Since all the classes were about leading me to some kind of performance, I had to figure out where I would perform and what song I would sing.

My performing venues were limited. I could have a concert for my friends at my home. Or I could sing at a piano bar at a restaurant where Deborah knew the house musician. (That didn't seem right because people would be trying to digest their food.) Then Deborah came up with a perfect, if appalling, solution. She would have me join her teenage students at their recital at a local performing arts center.

Now it was time for a song. I tried out various pop standards at home. When I sang "Moon River" to my husband, he looked as if he had just sat on a sharp object.

"What was wrong with that?" I asked.

"Look, I love you, and I don't want to see you set yourself up for pain," he replied. Out went Henry Mancini.

We settled on "More Than You Know," which has been recorded by everyone from Judy Garland to Cher and has a blessedly limited range. I began obsessively singing, while vacuuming, walking the dog (let neighbors stare!), driving my daughter around. She gave me valuable feedback. "Mom, some notes are good. But your problem is when the notes go up or down." Yes, I should switch to one of those one-note concertos by Philip Glass, or better yet, one of those silent numbers by John Cage.