Thursday, January 19, 2012

Finding My Voice

When I was a kid, I loved to act and sing. I was fearless in front of a crowd, and thoroughly enjoyed any opportunity to perform. I was in my first musical when I was 8, played the Captain in our sixth grade production of H.M.S. Pinafore (one of the benefits of an all-girls school), and fully embraced my lifelong affinity for hobbits as Bilbo Baggins in 7th grade. I loved all of it.

Also, I was decently good. My particular class in school turns out to have been absolutely riddled with talented girls, and quite a few have gone on to follow careers as musicians and actors. So I wasn't the best actress or singer in my year. Sadly, much of my young life was crippled by my own insistence that I only engage in activities in which I could excel, meaning if I couldn't be the best math student or poet or artist or dancer or whathaveyou, I just didn't bother.

Have you ever wanted to go back and take your younger self by the shoulders and shake some sense into her? Yeah.

But my own fear of competition and failure wasn't the only reason I walked away from theatre and singing. If it was, I could reserve all of my anger and disappointment for myself. No, there was something else. At some point, I think it was during high school, a teacher or someone in some sort of authority made a comment to me. It's telling that I can no longer remember who said it. Was it that voice teacher at music camp? I can't remember, and it doesn't matter. Because the point is, I absorbed this comment and accepted it as fact. Once said, it became part of my own Truth. And it went something like this:

"It's too bad about your lisp. At this point, it's probably too late to correct it. Unfortunately, even a small lisp like yours will prevent you from ever having any kind of career with your voice -- acting, singing, etc. Such a shame."

This adult probably had no idea what an impact their words would have. How much I would accept this pronouncement as the gospel truth, how these words would silence me for so many years. Of course it was a load of bull-honky. For one thing, I don't actually have a lisp -- I have a sibilant S, and it's not even that pronounced. For another thing, lots of singers and actors have lisps or "imperfect" voices.

But I believed it, and thus made it true. I have not acted on the stage since 7th grade. And my singing has been limited to children's lullabies and family gatherings.

Amazing how a 30-second off-hand comment can have that kind of long-lasting effect. It's a good reminder for those of us who are parents or work with children. You never know what an impact your words can have.

But the funny thing is, I have never actually stopped doing the things that I loved, I've just had a more limited audience. Every day for the past 18+ years, I have read aloud to my children. I do voices, I do accents, and I take pride in my reading-aloud skills. When I read Harry Potter, I am acting out Harry Potter... and playing all of the characters. Every day, my own voice is used to entertain and educate the small people in my house.

And this summer, I started learning how to play the guitar. Now every night, my husband and I sit in the living room taking turns playing new songs, practicing tricky chords, and singing. Every night, for an audience of one loving set of ears, I sing.

And it doesn't seem to matter whether it's too late to pursue these interests in a more serious way. (Maybe it isn't -- I still fantasize about a second career as a voice actor. Who knows?) In any event, after all these years, I am finding my voice.