By Su D’Ambrosio
When I was a child I loved to sing. I would spend hours on my swing set, making up songs about anything that came to mind. That was until fifth grade chorus. We were all preparing to sing a special holiday concert at a local department store. I couldn’t have been more excited, and I’m sure my enthusiasm was apparent during rehearsal. The teacher was walking up and down the rows of singers, and when she came to me she suggested that I “mouth the words.” I was devastated. My joy and love for singing was crushed. I decided then that I was not a “singer” and that I should focus on my other musical passion, playing the clarinet. I ultimately became a professional clarinetist and educator and, despite that experience, singing has become a regular aspect of my work with young students. I have to say, however, that to this day I struggle with a lack of confidence in my singing that was instilled with that one, misguided comment.
As I share that story, I am wondering how many others have had a similar experience, and how many voices have been inadvertently silenced. It just takes one comment from a loved one, friend, or teacher to turn a love of singing into a fear of singing. Perhaps because our voice is so closely integrated with our identity, we take these comments personally. If someone had said that my clarinet playing was awful, I could always blame it on the clarinet. With your voice, it’s your voice. There is also a common belief that people “can” or “can’t” sing. You are either “good” at it or “bad,” with nothing in between. With an external instrument such as a clarinet, you can improve through practicing. Even though this is absolutely true for your physical instrument, your voice, it doesn’t occur to us that we can improve it in the same way. This is especially true for adults who often feel that after a certain age or time, it isn’t possible to further develop their singing voice.
Thankfully, at South Shore Conservatory we have opportunities for vocalists and musicians of any age and on any instrument to make music with others, hone their craft, and learn and grow in a joyful, supportive environment. One such class, Great American Songbook, is led by outstanding educator and lifelong singer Dianne Legro, who understands the challenges and fears that her adult student bring into the class. She is a master at tapping in to each student’s strengths, innate joy, and love of singing. Students bring their favorite Songbook selections to class, sing for each other with collaborative pianist Mark Goodman providing accompaniment, and receive thoughtful, constructive feedback that helps them to make progress week after week. Singers who find themselves eager to perform in front an audience are invited to participate in our Adult Student Recital at the end of the semester. I truly hope that some of these students come to this class in order to overcome a stigma from an experience like mine in order to enjoy singing and find their voice again.
After all, it’s no fun mouthing the words.
Learn more about SSC’s Great American Songbook class starting on March 4 at our Hingham campus, and other classes for adults and students of all ages at http://www.sscmusic.org, call 781-749-7565, x10, or find South Shore Conservatory on Facebook.
Su D’Ambrosio is Director of Education for South Shore Conservatory. She lives in Plymouth with her daughters Maria and Rosa, and her dog Bernie, who uses his beautiful doggie voice to sing along whenever he hears police or fire truck sirens on his walks.