Her First Mistake

by gillis

My athletic prowess is very limited. It might be best characterized by removing the “pro” segment of the word prowess, leaving the sound “wess” to signify the sound of air escaping from a tire. That would also be the same sound every captain of every team I’ve ever been assigned to has made, as they slowly realized I have the aggression and drive to be a competitor, but very little skill to backup the attitude and the trash talk. For years I sorely disappointed classmates in PE, as well as adult coaches on the fields.  Thankfully, my children have an athletic father who can help them play catch and practice their swing or their jumpshot. It’s really best for everyone if I just drive to and from practice and provide snacks.

That’s why, when my daughter asked me to work with her on a song that she is singing in her school’s talent show, I jumped at the chance. Finally there’s something from my skill set- beyond spelling- to share. So far I’ve tortured her with “embarrassing” (what? in front of her 2 yr old brother?) breathing exercises, tongue twisters, and enunciation practice. She has a pretty voice with a round tone to it, but she uses what I’d call a “rolling stop” on consonants instead of coming to a complete stop, making phrases like “let you” sound more like  “le chew” and words like “door” sound like “duh.” In order to avoid a syntax accident, I’ve become the consonant police officer and I’ve made her sing the same phrase over and over and over until it sounds clean.  Only then can she move along.

It’s been an interesting experience. She is starting to hear for herself the difference between hitting a note versus sliding up to it and drifting around it. She’s almost ready to start experimenting with these sounds so that they are deliberate and not accidental. I think it’s been a surprise to her to learn that having a naturally pretty singing voice is like having a good arm. It’s only a start, and if you want to progress you have to work at singing just as you would pitching. Taking control doesn’t mean sounding forced or rigid, it means having more choice about material and the effects you can create with your voice.

It’s been many years since I’ve performed in front of an audience, unless you count the captives in my car, but I’ve found that most of the technique work I learned is still with me and I’m happy to be able to share what I know.  Although I find myself wishing I could contact the  musical directors and accompanists I once worked with so that I might apologize to them for my flabby, imprecise singing. They were right, I was lazy and I never did unlearn all my bad habits. Which is precisely why I have become the hag who will ride into my daughter’s dreams until she pronounces every d, t, r and -ing sound that she has the good fortune to come across in a song.

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