When You Gotta Sing

Why a former grade-four kid who bawled her eyes out on stage in front of a entire gymnasium full of parents and students during a school concert wanted to sing is beyond me. This is the same student who hyperventilated and vomited before each mandatory public speaking class in university. It is the author who held her book launch at a bar where she would be able to drink copious amounts of wine before she had to stand up and speak. The woman who, no matter how opinionated, gets anxious and emotional when trying to voice these opinions in a group.

So yes, I must have been absolutely nuts to want to sing in a group; but I did. I used to sing when I drove, which was often; and when I vacuumed, which was not often, and during showers and various other tasks that I did alone. I used to always have music playing in the background until the lyrics began to repeat themselves in incessant loops in my head that would keep me awake at night for weeks on end. These days, when I do listen, my music of choice is instrumental jazz (no lyrics). So why I decided that I wanted to sing at this point in my life is hard to explain. To put it simply, I wanted to do something fun. I also needed to get out of the house and to get a bit more social, but couldn’t find the right fit. A lot of the things I looked into required firm commitments and sounded too much like work. I am not ready, nor bored enough, to spend my time doing something that feels like work. Maybe sometime in the future, but not right now.

Lucky for me, the You Gotta Sing Chorus meets every Monday night and is a mere twenty minutes from where I live. I found Vanessa Papillon Music online. The chorus is for people who just want to sing. No audition and no experience necessary. Perfect fit. I hoped.

I told my sister on the phone that I signed up to do this, and she responded jokingly by asking me if I was trying to kill them, with them referring to the other members of the chorus. I knew she was only teasing, but I still tried to remember whether she had ever heard me sing. “JT says I’m not bad,” I replied. JT, who studied music and teaches vocals as well as other instruments, had been more encouraging. “Don’t worry mom,” he said. “You’ll be fine. You have pitch.” And although I had no idea what having pitch meant, I was happy he thought so. JT is one of the few people who has actually heard me sing.

Along with the thought of singing in public, the thought of having to make small talk makes me anxious. People who know me and have heard me voice my many opinions find this hard to believe; but one of the most nerve-racking things for me, something I attempt to avoid at all costs, is trying to make conversation in a room full of people. I either try to hard and say something stupid and come off as a flake, or I stand back and say nothing and come off as a snob. Either way I have a tendency to alienate people.

The first Monday of chorus, I spent all day oscillating between worrying and being excited. Just after dinner, I took an Advil Cold and Sinus to alleviate the postnasal drip that was making my throat thick, then worried that it might make my throat dry or me sleepy. I was ready way to early and had to wait around. Then left the house also too early, only to arrive early so I sat in my car for a while. This is my modus operandi for just about everything I attend.

Upon entering the hall, water thermos in hand, I was greeted by Vanessa, the founder and facilitator of the chorus, and whose beautiful smile instantly calmed me. Vanessa did not ask me to sing to figure out which section of the chorus I belonged in. WHEW! Instead, she played the piano and sung to me to show me what each section sounded like. She told me to pick the section that I thought sounded most like my singing; and if I felt differently in the future, I could just change sections. My kiddy-sounding voice certainly wasn’t bass or tenor, and soprano was a bit out of my reach. Alto felt the most familiar so I took a seat in a that section next to another new attendee. While gripping the binders we had just received, we introduced ourselves and chatted a bit about being newbies. Then a couple of returning members welcomed us; and the worst, which was in no way as bad as my imagination had conjured, was over.

We began with stretches, much like yoga stretches so I was all in. Then Vanessa showed us some vocal exercises, which we would then mimic. About fifteen minutes in we started learning some songs. Each section taught in small parts, a few words at a time. All by ear–the same way we had learned songs all our lives from the radio, or albums or CDs or perhaps, in later years, mp3 players or our favourite streaming service. Memory and repetition were our tools. 

I have to admit I was secretly hoping to sing some Aretha Franklin or Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes, but these songs did not appear in my new binder. However, the songs we sang on our first night, although not familiar to me, had both beauty and passion and were addicting. Our binders included a traditional Gaelic blessing, an Irish folk song, a South African freedom song as well as selected lyrics by Buffy Sainte Marie, Tom Chapin, Bob Marley, Harry Belafonte, and more. There were several artists that I recognized, just not artists who’s songs I had sung while driving or in the shower. This could be an advantage because not having a previous history with these lyrics will hopefully keep them from forming incessant loops in my head.

When that first evening ended, I couldn’t believe how relaxed I felt and how much I had enjoyed it. Was I a great singer? Not in the least, but the endorphins produced by singing lasted for days. Yes it was fun, extremely fun. Vanessa is joy personified. She is a woman who loves what she does. How could we not have fun when she was having so much fun teaching and leading us? By the end of our second evening, I was thinking that I may have found the perfect fit.

For more information on the You Gotta Sing Chorus, visit vanessapapillon.ca

Thanks for reading

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