“Ok. This is going to get a little ugly.” he said.
“Ok.” I replied, still shaking from what I had just done.
(I had been seated in front of a huge, scary grand piano, headphones on, my scribbled words and chords in a notebook on the music stand and a massive microphone intruding on my personal space in front of my mouth.)
And then I heard it. I heard my voice for the first time. It was surreal. Sitting in the control booth of a “real” recording studio, I heard my voice. It was higher than I expected but nicer too. Grammy award winning? No. But that wasn’t why I was there. I was there for my friend. I had written her a song and wanted to record it. Give it to her. Let her know how much I cared.
And then it got ugly. Jason, the engineer, started isolating spots. A pitch issue on a note. A weird breath. Cutting in a retake on the first of the second verse. Hearing my voice isolated in all it’s non glory was awkward and uncomfortable, yet beautiful in it’s own way. Beautiful in the courage I had found to even be in this space. I tried not to let Jason see that I had tears in my eyes, but I think he did. And that was okay too.
I got a toy organ when I was around 6 years old. I LOVED that organ! I don’t remember when it started, but I always wanted to play the piano. And I would settle for anything resembling a piano! When a musical instrument salesman knocked on our door back in 1968 (or so, dates are fuzzy for me that far back), I was all in!
“Please, please!” I begged my mom.
“Please, please let me have an accordion!” I whined.
Yep! He was selling accordions and accordion lessons! Mom in her infinite wisdom said no.
But I soon got the toy organ and became amazingly proficient playing my favorite song “On Top of Old Smokey.” And I didn’t just play, I sang too! My poor family. But it brought me pure joy. Nothing could dampen my enthusiasm. Until one day it was.
I had gotten a piano when I turned 8. It was an upright, blonde wood and smelled like age. A couple of the keys were partially missing ivory and one had a nasty habit of sticking, but I didn’t even notice. I played and sang and sang and played. My poor family. By the time I was 15, I played for not one but two churches. Small, little congregations that treated me like I was a prodigy. I wasn’t and I knew it, but it was a nice gesture on their part.
My piano teacher at the time was kind and I learned a lot. But, I was poor. She preferred her more affluent students. She was taking them on a trip to Europe. Of course, I could never have afforded to go, but not being asked made me feel like my piano playing wasn’t good enough. And then she added a double whammy. I was preparing for a talent competition. I wanted to play AND sing. After hearing my song of choice, she advised me to skip the singing. I was crushed. In her defense, she was totally right!! My piano skills WAY OUT shined my singing skills. AND when I played and sang together, my playing suffered.
So let me say again, she was totally right! But that’s not how my 15 year old self heard it. I heard “You can’t sing.” So I stopped. I stopped for almost 20 years. I silenced my voice.
Then one day when I was 39, I wrote my friend a song.
At the end of the recording session, Jason handed me a CD. It was the first of many. I went back to that studio, over and over and over until one day Jason, his wife Liz and I bought that studio.
Several years later, with a little help from Jason, I wrote a song that I called “I See.” I recorded it and Jason sang some harmonies for me. I thought I was writing it for someone else, but it turned out to be for me. It turned out to be my heart song.
I still struggle from time to time with silencing my voice by not speaking up, not being brave enough to live my truth but overall it’s a happy ending. Overall, I discovered that each of us Can Sing. All we have to do is be willing for it to get a little ugly in the process.
P.S. Several years later we closed the studio. Remember that huge, scary grand piano? She now lives in the music room of my home.
P.S.S. Here is the recording of my heart song. It’s called “I See.” (Yes, I have the recording of the song I made for my friend BUT, I think you will enjoy this one more. Although I am very proud of my efforts that day, my first song was… well my first song. I think you get my point.)
“I See” written and performed by Brenda Yelvington and Jason W. Johnson
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