tales of a girl in the city

août 20, 2005

Makes Perfect

For my first singing competiton, I sang a song about shepherds. It was what voice teachers and singers call an "art song." The kind where the vowels last for pages, running up and down on the notes like flights of stairs. Oh had I Jubyl's lyre and Miriam's tuneful voice. (Who is Jubyl? If I don't have a tuneful voice like Miriam's, why am I singing this stupid song?) And after all of that nonsense, just pages and pages of "ah-ahahaahahahah-ah-ahahahaha-ahahahah-AHH!." I had hated it from the minute my voice teacher Kathleen handed it to me: "This will be perfect. You'll sing this at the competition as your classical piece."

"Oh, Kate, it's really great. It's so interesting," my mom gushed. With that, my fate was sealed.

I sucked at that song. At the competition, I lost my place, forgot the words. My stomach sank in and in and in--my bellybutton drawing ever toward my spine; I squeezed out all the breath I had left, trying desperately to get to that last "Ahhh!." When I did finally get there, the sound I made was like the sigh of air escaping from a leather couch cushion. It wasn't pretty or jubilant or tuneful. It just stunk completely, and I lost.

We went the next day to hear the girl who would end up taking home the prize. Her voice came through her nose as though she had an oboe implanted in her forehead. Her big shoulders were covered by a fuschia sweater, and I knew as I watched her that she would end up teaching kindergarten somewhere, leading hiccuping three year-olds through rounds of "The Farmer In the Dell."

The category that she--and I--had entered was Musical Theater Singing. Unlike the other, more popular Classical Singing, there were only seven or eight students competing in MTS. We had had to prepare two songs from the standard musical theater repertoire, as well as one classical piece. In laymen's terms that boiled down to two songs that you can tap dance to, and one about a lyre and a guy named Jubyl.

The winner girl's classical piece eludes me now, but for her musical theater song she'd chosen something from the show "Once On this Island." Her blond hair shimmied every time she hit a high note and when she really got going she flapped her arms in the air like a useless, grounded bird. The judges loved it.

As my mom and I left the concert we were trapped in a mass of people milling around the young woman. "You're very good," an old lady in a violet rain cap shook her plastic helmet head at the winner, "Such a fun song."

My mom and I exchanged looks.

"You should've practiced more," Mom said at some point later, probably during the car ride home.