Sunday, May 13, 2012

The torch singer within: A tale of nature vs. nurture

The three judges sat about six rows back in the middle school auditorium, waiting for me to launch into my audition song for the Arlington Singing Competition (sort of an ‘Arlington Idol’ for local songbirds). I blinked against the stage light, willed my allergies to disappear, and began to sing ‘How Are Things In Glocca Morra’ a cappella.

I had barely gotten through the intro when the judges cut me short. Oh crap, I thought. Was that worse than I thought? I'd signed up for the competition with a simple goal: audition. Didn't matter if I made it -- the point was to stay in practice with overcoming nerves and doing a good job in front of certain judgment.

But now that I was about to get the axe, I realized that maybe, deep down, my goal had been to make it at least one round in to avoid embarrassment.

The judge who cut me off spoke first. "You have choir experience, don't you?" (I nodded.) "Well, my advice to you when you're auditioning is to pick more of a solo song, not so much of a choir song. When you dropped lower, I heard something sultry in there. That's what I would like to see from you -- the sultry."

Judge #2 piped up. "I disagree completely. You strike me as a very nice and sweet person, and that was a perfectly nice and sweet song for you to sing. I thought you bottomed out when you went low -- best to stay with what fits your voice."

Judge #3 smiled at me. "I don't care either. I thought you sounded lovely and it was great!"

The emcee asked the judges for their votes. Judge #1 = no. Judge #2 = yes. Judge #3 = yes. Embarrassment averted! I grabbed my golden ticket (a Word doc on 8x11 yellow paper) and went home for a very late dinner and hot tea.

But the saga's not done yet, largely because I have zero clue how to incorporate the judges' feedback into my next audition round. After hearing only 16 bars of music, they identified a personal conundrum I'm struggled with for years: What should I do when I have the sentiments of a torch singer but the voice of an ingenue? How can I be sultry and sweet at the same time? Is that even possible?

See, in the movie in my head, I am a tough broad. People know when I enter a room. I am fun and funny, sexy in my own way. How does that jibe with reality, though? Maybe my singing voice reveals my true nature -- friendly, inoffensive, not entirely memorable.

Which then makes me question, do I fall back on the ingenue because she's easy? Have I nurtured the tough broad enough and forced her to speak? Or am I caught in the middle, fulfilling neither and making less of an impression as a result?

The judges have no idea what they hath wrought. They're just waiting to hear what I come back with and hoping I won't make their ears bleed. But I will say this: I'm grateful to the first judge for saying what she did. She heard something I have long believed to be a part of myself, and I feel like I now have permission to explore it.

My goal now is to push my limits and sing in front of others what I sing in my imagination. It could very well be an exercise in self-delusion. A stage is not a shower stall, and my ingenue voice might really rule the day. But what's the harm in trying, right? The tough broad needs some lovin', and she's going to get it.

Prayer #209: Pitch Imperfect

Siren singing on a distant baby grand
I am power
I am motion
I am jazz and smoke and a very late night ...

And then I wake up, away from a stage, with a hummingbird trill and a sunny outlook and a dimple I didn't know I had.

What have You made me? What will You make me? Are these two selves -- present and future, inner and outer -- necessarily opposites? Or are they refractions -- evidence of Your own infinite permutations, and a promise of constant evolution, depending on the light?



  1. So interesting how this personal conundrum of yours was reflected back to you by the judges. From the bit of time we have spent together at Lou's, I've seen evidence of both sweetness and sultry. I don't think they are mutually exclusive, are they? Maybe the thing that sets you apart, the thing that makes you you, is that your sultriness is supported by your sweetness. Maybe you're both sweet *and* warming, like honey...?

  2. As a kindred 'sometime singer' I really enjoyed this posting. With no formal training, I struggle yet am very happy in a terrific women's a cappella group Venus d minor, mostly because I am intimidated that they are have so much more training than I (thank god I started the group, they can't kick me out). In my heart (and actually in practice), I too am a solo torch singer, but given the limited number of hours, I wouldn't trade the communion with other women and the transcendent sound when a chord comes together, something that just can't be done as a soloist. But I love the solo. It is a conundrum. Would love to hear you sing some time!


  3. Anonymous10:48 AM

    Good luck in the next round, Julia! Let the tough, sultry broad out of there and knock 'em dead. I know it's in you. Great song choice.

  4. Lisa: I like where your head's at. You're right, why *should* I think of them as exclusive? Certainly we're more complex than that. I will enjoy mulling this over ...

    Dolores: Great thought and eternal conundrum. We should stage our own recital with a mix of duets and solos. Then all our multiple personalities will be happy. :)

    Jenna: Thanks friend! I'm actually going with 'Your Daddy's Son' from Ragtime. Not a torch song in the slightest, but definitely passionate. We'll see. Eek.