If I could choose one gift off the assembly line of human talents, it would the ability to sing well.
Scratch that. It would be the ability to eat whatever I want whenever I want as much as I want while never growing beyond a size 6. Hey, if we’re dreaming, make it a size 4. But aside from that, it would be the singing thing. If I were a great singer, I would never speak, and people wouldn’t want me to. Life would be a song, and I its lead soloist.
Having a mediocre voice (at best) does not stop me from trying, although it does limit how much I try in public. Most of my unabashed belting occurs, for the good of humanity, within the confines of my Honda, windows up, radio intentionally cranked to a volume where it almost drowns me out. If I set the volume just right, hints of my voice emerge under the mask of the lead singer and I’m surprised by how good I sound. Anything louder and I can’t detect myself at all; anything softer is an unpleasant reminder, and the volume practically turns itself up.
But at the perfect settings, I am Adele. Or Jennifer Hudson. Or Freddie Mercury. I’m the woman you pull up beside at a red light and find mouth agape, head tilted back, her hand shot up as if to say, “Stop, please. This wave of emotion is just too much to bear.” But she doesn’t stop. She croons until the bridge when her eyes flutter open, and she turns to her right to find you and your passenger laughing and pointing at her. But if you knew how gut-wrenchingly magical she sounded, you wouldn’t think it was so damn funny.
Then The Eagles come on, with their tight harmony. And I’ve gotten a bit too comfortable. The easy melodies of Bruce Springsteen or Journey made me cocky and I think, Let’s crank this up. Let’s deepen the emotional complexity. Alone the melody is catchy, charming. But blended with the harmony it transforms lyrics like, “I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me,” from playful to urgent. You need the urgency to be soulful.
And I want to be soulful.
So I say, “Okay, Eagles. Let’s harmonize.”
I hear the stacked thirds of the harmony. I’ve identified the notes through the first couple rounds of the chorus. So I part my lips, take a deep breath running start, and leap to join in.
Take it eaaasy.
Ouch. That ain’t right.
Desperate, I choose another note.
Oof. Wrong again.
I climb the scale.
I outwardly wince, and somewhere a dog is whimpering.
I don’t understand it. I hear the note through my speaker and in my head, but what I produce is so far off the mark. All I have to do is match it. I’m not asking myself to do anything a parakeet can’t. Yet, it’s impossible. And although it’s just me in the car, I’m embarrassed. My performance embarrassed myself. The volume settings can’t help in these cases– it can never be loud enough to cover tone deafness.
I only manage to create harmony if the consonance is such a prominent line, it’s practically the melody, like in Journey’s “Lights.” When it comes out right, or nearly right, I think I’m Josh Groban, and bob my head like a rooster strutting, certain that I missed my calling. I shouldn’t be in this CRV. I should be on a stage somewhere.
But god forbid I’m feeling whimsical and I try to create my own harmony line. It’s hard enough when I have backup singers to mimic. When I try to develop my own brand of harmony, I sound like the nun choir before Whoopi Goldberg’s character intervenes and changes their lives forever. The results cause me to hate myself, and I abandon whatever song inspired me to improvise. I skip the CD until I land on a tune to match my disparaged mood. Alanis Morissette tends to be the best fit. That way, if my vocals sound crude, it only helps the message.
You, you, you, oughta know!