Can’t hit the high notes, but I no longer care

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I like to sing. I’m an Alto 2, which means women at my end of the vocal spectrum don’t get those high-soaring, glass-shattering solos. If singing were a house, we’d be the foundation, deep in the ground, supporting all the fancy rooms upstairs. As an Alto 2, I am also sometimes called “sir” on the phone.

I don’t have a great voice. I learned this when I auditioned for New Jersey’s All-State Chorus when I was in high school and didn’t make the cut. I also got a hint when my singing teacher one day said, “You have a nice little voice.”  At that moment, a bell went off in my head, signaling that my dream of becoming a Broadway musical actress was probably unrealistic.

Still, I did perform in about ten school and community theater musical productions, and I sang in two groups in college. One was an A-cappella ensemble that, in retrospect, was rather awkwardly named the “Swingers.” I also played the guitar with rather rudimentary skill, which made me popular at Girl Scout camp, where singing around the campfire was an evening norm.

Then, following college, I stopped singing. I stopped playing the guitar. Though I lugged that old Yamaha 12-string through eight states and 24 moves, and would ceremoniously place it in a corner of whatever new dwelling I inhabited, I ignored it, save for a cursory dusting now and then.

Fast forward about 35 years. Now a teacher, I joined ranks with three of my brethren: three women with high levels of  performing expertise. One used to sing with big bands and played the piano. One was a member of the aforementioned high-soaring, glass-shattering soprano circle, and the other was a professional actress. Which, of course, made me the the occupier of the lowest rung on our musical totem pole. We would perform around the holidays at nursing homes, singing songs from the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, everything from the Andrew Sisters to the Mamas and the Papas to Simon and Garfunkel with the usual Christmas fare thrown in.

I enjoyed our practices and performances. I hadn’t realized how much I missed music. In an effort to make myself more valuable to the group, I picked up that old guitar. I struggled, but learned a few songs we could perform. I also served as our MC.

Then, one day, the piano player abruptly stopped during practice. “You’re off key!” she said during one of the rare times I sang solo. I tried again. “No! Here’s the note.” She repeatedly plunked the piano key. The other singers looked away, embarrassed for me.

Shortly thereafter, I got sick with what I thought was a miserable lingering cold. My doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong and sent me to a specialist. The nose and throat man checked me out, then explained that surgery was required to remove a strange colony of anaerobic creatures that had taken up residence in my sinus. (Yep, it was as gross as it sounds. Hope you’re not eating.)

I remember, prior to the operation, I was asked to sign a batch of forms. One informed me that I might lose my eye. I signed it. Another let me know that I could suffer brain damage. I signed it. The third explained that I might come to with my voice irrevocably altered. I stared at the form, then handed it back to the nurse. “I’m not signing this,” I said, as I envisioned waking up with a voice like Fran Drescher.

The thought of never being able to sing again made me sadder than I thought possible. I know what you’re thinking. Sadder than losing en eye? Sadder than brain damage? Really? All I can say is…yes.

The good news is I neither lost an eye, was deprived of any important bits of brain, nor had my voiced changed. Even better, I could once again hear notes properly. And now, though our little group has disbanded, I sing and play my guitar most days with a wild abandon I didn’t have before the surgery. And though I can hit even fewer high notes than in my youth, I don’t care as much. I’m just happy to sing.

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I performed in about ten musical productions, mostly in my youth. Here, I play Golda in my high school production of Fiddler on the Roof. Even then, I knew I wasn’t the best singer in the group. It took me 40 years and the prospect of losing my voice to come to the conclusion that being the best wasn’t the point. Today, I take joy in just singing.

 

Anne Montgomery’s new YA novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other?  The Scent of Rain will be released on March 28, 2017. The book’s launch will take place at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore at 4014 N Goldwater Blvd #101, Scottsdale, Arizona on April 2, 2017 at 2:00 PM. 

 

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