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Life is a Song – Sing It

It seems I’ve posted a lot of motivational “one step at a time” entries but the heart and soul of this blog was to explore the personal journey into professional voice acting. I therefore would like to share an experience I just had that breaks through the politeness and shows my vulnerable truth.

I received an audition for a few character roles and one is required to sing.

To paint my background a bit, I was in Choral Ensemble in high school where we actually competed (and won) with neighboring schools; we also put on a few musicals throughout each school year. Since our theatre department was lacking, I embraced choral ensemble as my extra curricular activity. I wasn’t a soloist but I did my part and eventually I would become Stage Manager in my senior year (I not only started rehearsals, I would occasionally monitor the class when our instructor had to step out. I appreciated the faith he had in me and I worked hard to keep it).

But before becoming Stage Manager, I had high hopes of performing on stage. In fact, after being Brigitta in Sound of Music, I was cast to sing the duet “By My Side” in Godspell. I was a bit shy and surrounded by amazing talent but I was excited to prove myself. But as fate would have it, I got sick during practice & I started going sharp on some notes. The director drilled me until I could correct the issue but upon my health returning, I was over-correcting and started going flat. I broke down one night after rehearsal, telling the director to re-cast as I knew I would not be able to perform the way I needed to. Realizing that I was taking a High School musical a little too seriously, the director compromised and had a second person sing my part with me. It was embarrassing but the backup kept me in tune. It was after that performance that I knew my “career” in musical theatre was over – and so I enjoyed my final year of high school working the other aspects of production.

Unfortunately, the incident has stayed with me and I’ve grown a fear of public-singing. Acting the spoken word is no problem for me but add a melody and I clam up. I’m able to sing in a group and I’ll sing playfully around my friends but I had not performed for about 10 years until about two years ago, when I sang in a character voice for a project that was never finalized or published anywhere. I was cast as Mouse, a very small little girl who reminded the crew of Nina from Fullmetal Alchemist.

I gave the writer/director the disclaimer that I was not a singer and would often go flat but he was willing to work with me. I knew I could keep a tune if I had someone to sing along with, so he recorded himself singing the song and I listened to it as he recorded me singing. It cut out the fear and being locked in a box all alone helped me open up. I came out to find a fellow actor on the project in tears and I felt satisfied that I was able to do the song and character justice.

Needless to say, when I saw that this audition required a verse of a song to go along with it, I had a moment of trepidation for what it would mean. Normally, I do not proceed with an audition if it specifies that it’s a singing role. But this felt different and I felt there was no harm in trying.

The request was a verse or the chorus in a Capella. I chose to sing the refrain from “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten.

I found it fitting on a personal level but it also fit the character, as she had gone through some personal trauma but is fighting for a better tomorrow.

I was a bit surprised at how nervous I sounded; usually I feel free in my booth and I reminded myself that no one would hear it if I didn’t want them to. I then started singing along with the artist using headphones but I worried that I might sound a bit pitchy. So I tried to sing a second song “When there was me and you” from the High School Musical (the audition piece reminded me of HSM and I couldn’t get it out of my head). I sang the song through once to remember it and then started singing a second time. But something surprising happened.

I started crying.

The lyrics started getting to me – on a truly “meta” level:

Why did I let myself believe
Miracles could happen
Cause now I have to pretend 
That I don't really care

How could I think that I could audition for a singing role when I know I have such baggage with performing? I always joke that I’m not a singer, every time anyone brings it up or asks me to sing, since (they say) I have such a lovely speaking voice. I laugh them off as sweet but naive. I left the booth disheartened but not totally undone.

I started the editing process and I got to the song portion. And as I listened, I could hear, through the uncertainty, a beautiful voice. Should I make an album – no way. But I was far from horrible.

Feeling a bit braver, I ventured back in to sing ‘Fight Song’ once again, this time specifically feeling the events that just transpired – here I was, facing a decade-old fear.

That take had power. That voice wasn’t scared. And it wasn’t pitchy either.

I know I won’t be cast in that role. With so many talented singers in the pool, it won’t be hard to find one who can vibrato circles around me.

But that really wasn’t the point of this audition. I approached something that I’ve been avoiding and denying the detriment it might play in my career. And I made progress. There’s still healing that needs to take place and probably some karaoke sessions are in order but I think I’m finally ready to accept it – I’m a “singer”.

To Sing: to make musical sounds with the voice, especially words with a set tune.

Title quote by Sai Baba.

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