American Idol, balance, connections, cuisine, faith, Fidler & Co. Craft Kitchen, food, gourmet, gratitude, guitar, happiness, He Lives in You, health, hope, humor, inspiration, kids, life, Lion King, love, magic, mindfulness, motherhood, music, parenthood, peace, presence, Rafiki, saxophone, singing, thyroid cancer, thyroidectomy, voice, wellness, William Hung, wine
Alternate Title: Why I Love Thursdays
“But I sing. I’m a singer,” I croaked, surprised by the hot tears filling my eyes.
As I said it, I realized I hadn’t actually sung in front of any people for over ten years. Come to think of it, I hadn’t sung in the shower or the car for a long time, either. My young son often told me to “Be quiet!” if I tried to sing with the radio, and somewhere along the way, I had become embarrassed about singing out loud in front of anyone else in the car. With two little ones, singing on stage felt like someone else’s lifetime, and there was no time (nor did it seem important enough to find time) to turn up the stereo and sing my heart out with a hairbrush microphone, not that I was ever home alone anyway.
My surgeon was reviewing the list of risks that went along with a thyroidectomy, among them, damaged vocal chords – a potential for permanent hoarseness. I promised myself if I came through the surgery without vocal chord damage, I would sing again. Somewhere.
One surgery turned into two, but both went well, insofar as there was no vocal chord damage. So I kept my word to myself. I started looking up local choral groups, community theatre groups, even church choirs (I say “even” as I hadn’t set foot in a church for sometime, either). I started singing in the car again.
That spring, my daughter and I drove to Virginia to visit my college roommate and her daughter. We were singing, “He Lives in You,” from the Broadway soundtrack of The Lion King – me at the top of my lungs, she at the top of her sweet three-year-old voice. I felt a once familiar shiver run up the back of my neck.
“Wait… There’s no mountain too great
Hear these words and have faith
Have faith …
He lives in you
He lives in me
He watches over
Everything we see
Into the water
Into the truth
In your reflection
He lives in you.”
My personal theology does not necessarily call God or the Universe a “He,” but whoever He/She/It is, I felt something Divine telling me, “Keep singing. Just keep singing. The music lives in you.”
“Again!” said my daughter. So I played it again. And again. And again.
Fast forward a few months to a Saturday morning soccer game, when I bumped into an acquaintance with kids the same age as mine. I had recently learned he played the saxophone in a jazz duo with another friend of a friend, who played the guitar.
“Need a singer?” I asked. He politely said neither yes nor no. For all he knew, I could be William Hung – remember him? He was the guy from American Idol who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but sung his heart out anyway and grabbed attention from the world. There are lots of people who believe they can sing. What my saxophone-playing friend Bret didn’t know at the time was I am actually the opposite: I am the girl who has a nice voice, but worries constantly whether it is good enough to expose to people, whose self-worth was previously very much attached to what people think of her voice. Unable to handle a rejection so personal, I had kept quiet for a long time.
A few days later, serendipity put me in the company of Bret’s gregarious guitar-playing friend Marc at the bakery-café where he worked. I introduced myself, and mustered up the courage to ask again, “Need a singer?”
“Come Thursday night,” he replied. “We’re closed, but Bret and I play ever Thursday after closing.”
So I went. I brought a friend and a few pieces of sheet music. Mostly I sat and listened to them play. They had been playing together for a little over ten years at the time, and they communicated beautifully through their instruments. It was like watching an old married couple finish each other’s sentences – I loved watching them “talk” to each other; banter, really. The transitions from guitar solo to saxophone solo were effortless; the improvisational riffs made them smile to themselves, both of them in on the private joke spoken through a combination of notes.
I sang a few songs with them – not much of the stuff I brought – songs they had been playing for years that I knew enough of the lyrics to sing along – “My Favorite Things,” “The Nearness of You.” We made a list of things for me to learn, and they invited me back the following week.
Each week I hoped they might ask me to come again.
That was four years ago. We’re still playing every Thursday night (we’ve even named ourselves, “Pomona’s Trio.”). These days, the restaurant is open for dinner. On Thursdays, it is full of familiar faces eating beautiful and delicious food. People seem to enjoy our music. You need a reservation on Thursdays.
It’s the perfect gig. We play from 6 pm to 8 or 8:30, and then, the chef brings us out a sampling of fabulous food from the evening’s menu. I get to have a glass of wine and still get home early enough to kiss my kids goodnight. But most importantly, for the first time, I don’t worry whether the audience enjoys my voice or not. I am just there to sing; to make music with my two dear musical friends; to blow off steam and let go of my week; to invite the shiver up my spine to return – the same one that paid me a visit in the car four years ago. For the first time – like William Hung, whose gift of unadulterated joy through music is much more valuable than the credit I originally gave it – my worth is not attached to what others think of how I sound, but instead, to how alive I feel when the music connects me to everything and everyone who cares to witness it.