Songs For a New Tamar

My daughter was just in a production of Jason Robert Brown’s Songs For a New Tomorrow which I had never heard of until she auditioned for it. It was a high school production as opposed to the pre-professional youth theatre stuff she has done in the past.  I could write a massive amount about youth theatre in Toronto, but I will save it for another time,

I have always loved to sing and always fancied myself a decent albeit totally untrained singer. In my fantasies, I am always a singer….not a great chef, as some might have thought, but a musician that is admired and lauded. I think I started singing around the time I learned to talk and I remember always loving music of which there was an abundance in my home: everything from musical theatre to folk and opera.  I spent an inordinate amount of time creating shows in my head and ensconcing myself in a world where I was the star and not being thin and blond was a non-issue. I longed to take singing lessons; I longed to be on Tiny Talent Time (a local show for kids); I longed to be told I was good but alas none of this occurred. I was made to take piano which was not so bad but I had abysmal teachers, the first of which had a huge ass and was constantly rapping my knuckles with a ruler.  Her husband was the first cellist with the Toronto Symphony and the best part of the whole exercise was hearing him practice and hearing the clock strike 5 when my lesson was over….this lasted for a year.

I still sang (when no one was around) and still dreamed recognition and then came piano teacher number 2: Miss Speller (I kid you not).  I “studied” with her for what seemed like an eternity at the Royal Conservatory which in those days had a branch office near our house and I remember two things about her very clearly: she made me hate playing the piano and she always made me fetch her a beef barley soup from the diner beneath the studio.  She seemed utterly ancient to me but she was probably the age I am now. She did not have a discernible feel for music and when she sang along to my playing I wanted to stuff a sock in her mouth.  I finally begged my mother to let me try another teacher and succeeded, I never missed her; not even a drop.

My final teacher was my grandmother’s next-door-neighbour. Her name was Mrs. Wilton and her house always smelled like s pea soup accept that she was never cooking pea soup and she was what family would have called “very goyishe”. I didn’t really care about that particularly but I did think she was a musical idiot and after a tortured year under her tutelage, I finally quit piano for good which was and is still incredibly sad.

But still I sang: in school choirs, all by my lonesome and in my imagination.  I played (never very well) violin from grade 7-11 until I realized that I was never going to be remotely as good as my peers who had their own instruments and had private lesson, not to mention words of encouragement.  I could never master vibrato and I always felt bad about my lack of talent. Attempting to play guitar was my last feeble attempt at something I craved most fervently (to be really good at something musical).   After a positive experience at summer camp where I learned a few chords and liked having accompaniment to my singing, I asked for lessons . All I really wanted was to learn more chords but somehow I got talked into classical which is gorgeous but more than I wanted to bite off. I lasted a year and I was not bad but I think I persevered as long as I did because I had a crush on my teacher who I can still say was one of the most attractive men I have been in the same room with.

The main ingredient that was missing in all of this was my parents encouragement.  I mean, they would say some kind words but most I would hear that I was not Glen Gould, or Judy Garland, or Andres Segovia or Itzhak Perleman and it made me feel like it was all for nothing and a failure so eventually, despite the fact that I maintain I was very musical, hearing that I was not a prodigy finally cause me to just close up shop.  I still sang in school choirs and did the odd youth theatre show (there was very little of that in my day), but it eroded my confidence and even though I wanted to do something in the musical realm, I could not stand the thought of more dismissive words, so one day, it just stopped: all of it.  Real life took over and while I still listened to music daily and appreciated it immensely, it was the final coda for me.

Five years ago, I met a woman at a party I was catering who had a synagogue choir and we got to chatting.  She was utterly full of herself and a total diva but when she encouraged me to audition,  I did.  I got in and started singing with this rather geriatric group but after 6 months I quit because this woman was a bitch plain and simple. She had no respect for the choir members and as I said,  the other members were all over 65 save for myself and two other women (one of whom I became friends with and the other who never deigned to give me the time of day).  I quit when I realized that I would be required to spend too much time in synagogue (which I guess I should have realized up front my bad), which was not particularly comfortable for me and because I could not stand all of the illness and death chatter that seemed to be the only subjects people seemed to want to discuss (ad nauseum). It was just not fun on any level and as I said to myself, why am I here.

Fast forward to a few months ago.  I auditioned for a Jewish community choir run by a woman who used to have a kids TV show with her husband. The show consisted of them singing songs they wrote whilst in various costumes with mascots dancing around.  It was a very high energy affair that my kids never really enjoyed watching but they hit it big playing the camp circuit and won a Juno (sort of like a Canadian Grammy).  They made a lot of money doing it and now they are sort of Canadian icons in the children’s realm though somehow no one I know has heard of them.  I was initially excited because I was going to sing Tenor which was another issue in the first choir: I was always singing in head voice which was totally unsatisfying and very tiring; La Belle, who I earlier termed a bitch would not let me sing tenor.

This new choir was large; around 50 people or so and it quickly became apparent that it was based on this odd cult of personality because the leader was a minor celeb (mostly in her own mind I think) and that she was very content to perform pieces that were not well-polished and that she used the choir as it suited her. I quickly had the feeling that I could be with this choir forever and a day and no one would say boo to me; it just felt off from the beginning.

The only members who would even attempt conversation and kindly offered me lifts home were these 2 older men which felt awkward.  One was just this sweet guy who was being decent and the other was a chatterbox that talked through rehearsals to the point where I wanted to tell him to pay attention to the music. I soon figured out that he had probably exhausted others with his verbosity and he had found a new ear to twist.

Aside from this, I did not like the music; she had us perform at a children’s holiday concert and mostly as back-up. When I realized I was singing :Chugga chagga woo woo, I realized I had to take my leave; that and the fact that she would write the members these rather teachery manipulative emails which were supposed to be encouraging but gave me a bad case of the icks.

I am well aware how I sound: like a picky quitter laced with a soupcon of music snob but I will say very frankly that getting out of my house for any activity is a challenge and I value my time, not to mention the 200 bucks she charged to join the thing ( I happily never got around to paying).

A week ago, this same friend from the shul choir (who had  recently gotten kicked out after 5 years….I think it was political) told me about a new choir where they sang an eclectic mix of music and the director was a respect member of the arts community. All of this totally peaked my interest, so I booked and audition, strutted my stuff and I got in.

I was actually afraid of not making it because this woman actually knows music but she was very complimentary and while I still have a difficult time believing such words, I felt over the moon and truly inspired to be there.

For the first time, I actually feel genuine excitement at the thought of starting in January and my fingers are crossed that I have finally found a place where others can hear my song.  I feel like I owe it to myself to follow my dreams when I can and since that has proved to be a massive challenge in my life, I feel like I have nothing to lose. I shall keep you posted.


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