I believe in singing a song, preferably in the shower every morning with running water as my orchestra. Staying with my mother-in-law last Thanksgiving, she inquired,” I thought I was listening to the radio. Was that you singing?” I did not know you could sing so well.”
I had not really sung a song in more than thirty years. It all happened in second grade when I had just joined the choir at my elementary school. I thought it would be fun to sing. Then, half way through my first rehearsal, the teacher stopped the singing, explaining someone was off key. He divided the room into smaller and smaller groups, asking each group to sing separately. Eventually, I was the only one singing. He asked me to leave the room with the words,” you are singing off key.” “You probably have a cold. You can come back when you feel better.” Walking home alone, I felt an immediate sadness. I did not have a cold. I had not had a cold in months. I just should not sing from now on. I could not do sing.
Then, many years later, I felt a similar situation developing. But this time it would have a different outcome. I was about to finish graduate school and I had my last appointment with the department head. He exchanged good wishes, and then asked any last questions. I uttered slowly:” I have been told several times that I may encounter professional limitations because of my foreign accent. Do you think this will be a problem moving forward?” My professor’s face turned slightly red, his eyes became alert, then slowly and clearly articulated: “I do not think this is a problem. And, you need to remember, do not let yourself be defined by others. There will always be others who will try to set your limitations. But you have the final word. You are the one who will set your own limitations. And do not let anyone else.”
I felt an immediate sense of relief. Not only could I start my professional life just like all the other graduate students in my class, but I took a new look at life’s choices. In the following years, I moved on professionally, climbed many of the highest mountains of my home state, and felt the exhilaration of finishing the New York City marathon. Then one day, I came across a brief newspaper article, titled “How to Sing in the Shower.” An accomplished voice instructor in my home town was teaching people who had not been able to carry a tune how to sing. I contacted her, and since my first lesson a whole new world of music has suddenly opened up to me that I had not known since second grade. I have found tremendous joy singing traditional folks songs, and following the tunes of Pete Seeger, Henri Mancini, and Nina Simone. Now I sing while I am in the shower, being stuck in traffic, skiing, and I once in a while I sing with friends around the campfire. My voice instructor and I now only meet periodically, she said,” You can choose your own songs. You know what works for you. I am not setting your limitations. I am just helping you along the way.”