Monday, January 1, 2018

Sing Daily.

Sing Daily.  That's my big new resolution for 2018.

Are you as nervous about it as I am?  Probably not, because you're far away and don't have to hear me.  But as for me, this resolution is going to be a biggie in my life.

Earlier this fall, my college made a video of me, and I noticed my voice sounded raspy.  There was a nasty cold that infected a bunch of people this fall, and I got hit by a low-level cough that turned into a sore throat, with the whole illness lasting about two months, so that might have affected things.  But still, the raspiness, I didn't like it.  I want my voice to stay as strong as the rest of me . . . hence, time to start exercising those vocal chords.

Was I imagining things?  When I told my daughters about my resolution and the reason for it, they asked, "What raspiness?"  But then after I spoke a little more, they said they could hear what I was talking about.  My husband, when I brought this up, said he'd noticed the raspiness starting a year or so ago, and that it's more noticeable in the morning.  He also said he likes my voice the way it is (love that man!).  My early-morning running buddy couldn't hear the raspiness at all.   All of these conversations were doubly comforting:  I'm not imagining things (good for my brain!), but I don't seem to have to freak out about a serious problem, either.

On the other hand, I'd tested the waters on the Sing Daily resolution, and I decided to go for it.  And not just some wimpy sing-hum-along-with-the-radio kind of thing, but a real work-those-vocal-chords-and-diaphragm kind of singing.  Every day.

The Christmas season was a great time of year to take this resolution out for a test-drive, because there are a lot of chances to sing familiar songs with a lot of other people.  But I also did a bit of solo singing, with my toe in the metaphorical lyrical waters.  Here are some big surprises I've encountered as I tried it.

I don't remember the words to songs.   This kind of floored me. I know the Gettysburg Address by heart; I've memorized about a gazillion poems; I've memorized hour-long math talks.  But I'd start a song in the confines of my office after hours, and I'd get to the second or third line and . . . nothing.  What a blow to my know-it-all psyche!

Even more, it's really hard to sing by myself if I don't know the words.  I ended up singing a lot of "Happy Birthday" and our college's Alma Mater when I was still testing the resolution out.  So now I know that part of singing daily is going to have to include memorizing the words to songs I like.  Right now I'm mastering "Be Thou My Vision" and "If I only had a Brain".  Suggestions for other good songs are welcome!

I sing so poorly it's hard to keep singing.  The feedback loop is really hard to overcome here, folks.  I open up my mouth and start singing these raspy notes, and I just want to shut up until I can sing better.  Or I don't quite hit the notes I want to hit.  Or my voice just doesn't sound like the kind of voices I like listening to when I go to theater performances or turn on the radio -- and it makes me want to hear those voices and not mine.   It's not a surprise that I sing badly; it's a surprise that it's just so danged hard for me to keep singing anyway.    I know I've got to keep going (just like, when I'm out of shape, I need to go running even though I feel like I'm a canvas bag full of ping pong balls).   And I can hear that I'm getting a bit better already --- or maybe I'm just becoming inoculated against the noise, I dunno.

A bunch of other people have raspy voices, and I like them.  Even though I am still sort of put off by the gurgle-y sound I make, I've noticed that other people talk the same way and I don't seem to mind their voices.  How did I not notice those other voices before?  I guess it's just the way we humans learn to pay attention to what we're already paying attention to (like when I was house hunting, I saw a gazillion "For Sale" signs, but now that I own a house I only see "Yard Sale" signs).

Already, singing has started connecting me with people in new ways.  This, I love.  I-daughter and N-son both sing in a community chorus, and I-daughter in particular has started to give me pointers on using my voice well (or more accurately, on using my voice better than before).  It's nice to see her moving into the "expert" role in our relationship here.  I have another friend who asked me to be her accountability partner in memorizing scripture; I told her that on my end, I'm going to memorize hymns, and she was delighted.   (I'm going to sing "Be Thou My Vision" to her, but not "If I only had a Brain").  Another friend wants to have me on her radio show (?!?); a theater friend of mine said that I reminded her of how much she likes doing voice exercises (I have to ask her for some of those) . . . In general, I love how singing is opening up new ways of being with people around me.

I've got a few other minor resolutions.  I didn't make it to 50 push-ups before I turned 51 so I want to try to make it to 51 push-ups this year before I turn 52.  I want to carve out 5-10 minutes of dog training each day.  I want to be more mindful of food while I'm eating it, for reasons of physical and mental health as well as overall gratitude.  I want to get out of my office and into the open air during daylight hours, in spite of all the committee reading I have to do this year.  So I've got a couple of other goals for the spring semester.

But singing daily.  That's going to be the Big New Thing in the Miser Mom lifestyle.  I'm psyched.


  1. I LOVE this! After 16 years working in the field of music education, it is my firm belief that there is no such thing as a person who cannot sing. At the school where I worked, one of our main focuses was adult beginners, and after years of comparing their progress to that of children (whether on voice or any instrument) my conclusion was that adults struggled not because they learned any slower or differently than children, but because they couldn't shut off their own internal critics.

    Seriously, at the end of each 8 week session we'd have a little party/recital, and the adult beginners ALWAYS sounded better than their younger counterparts. The difference was that the adults were embarrassed and self conscious while the kids would gleefully hit a sour note and happily continue onward.

    Anyhow, as for the raspy voice, some is training and proper vocal placement, I'm sure, but some may just be the natural quality of your voice. Either way, the important thing is to focus on how it feels, not how it sounds. I mean, if it hurts, you're doing something wrong and you should stop and get some professional advice so you don't do damage, otherwise just think of Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan or Joe Cocker.

    I could go on forever, so I'll stop babbling now. Though I do have to admit, I'm chuckling over the issue of not being able to remember the lyrics. I sorta have the opposite problem. Songs wedge themselves into my little brain and won't come out. Seriously, one day I was walking to the grocery store and a fly landed on my arm. Out of nowhere came 12 verses of some song I must have learned in summer camp... "Mr. fly climbed up a tree, cried I'm high as high can be..." I suppose each of us has our own cross to bear!

    1. Thanks for the informed encouragement! This gives me courage.

      I'm pretty good at having songs pop into my head; the problem is I only have the first two or three lines, which I then have to repeat over and over . . . or move on to a new song. Well, I'm already learning the words to a bunch of my go-to tunes. ("Rubber Ducky" was the next one I had to master; fortunately, that's pretty easy!)

    2. Hahahah! Well, maybe part of it is that not knowing the lyrics never actually stops me - I just make up my own. Like, for example, the Rubber Ducky song: Jasper kitty, you're the one. You're my sweetie honey bun. Jasper kitty I'm awfully fond of... you. (with a pile of similarly silly verses to follow...)

      Anyhow, I'm looking forward to hearing how this little resolution progresses!

    3. I used to make up words to songs all the time, especially when singing to my kids. I want to get back to that place again.

  2. That's a great resolution! One of my hobbies is something called shape note or Sacred Harp singing. If you've already heard of it or tried it and decided it's not for you, just ignore the rest of this comment. If you haven't, it's an American folk hymn tradition that started in New England in the mid-1700s, spread elsewhere in the northeast and to the south, and then kind of died out in the northeast for a while until the folk music revival in the 60's and 70's. Now, there's a lot of this singing all over the country, and it's even spread to some places in Europe.
    The music is four-part a cappella harmony with a distinctive raw sound featuring a lot of chords with open fifths and some harmonies that are unusual in hymns and western common practice music. It is full-voiced, and singers don't really try to blend with each other. It's not traditionally performed but just sung together for each other and for worship (for those singers who worship).
    There's a good amount of singing in your state, including a two-day weekend singing event in Philadelphia that's coming up at the end of January, and it just so happens that I'll be able to attend that one for the first time this year. The website for more information is here:
    One of the reasons I love it is that our culture doesn't have many opportunities for adults with both trained and untrained voices to sing together unironically without fear of being judged. The one note of caution for you is that if you're worried about raspiness, you probably want to make sure not to try to sing as loud as everyone else. It's definitely possible to tire your voice singing in this style, and while I haven't had any long-term problems, I sometimes leave singings a little hoarse. But if you stay hydrated and do what feels comfortable for your voice, I think it could be a fun way for you to explore your voice and make music with other people.
    As you can tell, I am very enthusiastic about this hobby. If you're interested in trying this out or want more information, I'd be happy to chat with you about it here or over email.

    1. This definitely sounds awesome -- especially the "to sing together unironically" part. Right now I'm not looking for other scheduled activities to add to my calendar (quite the opposite), but I can totally see myself joining some kind of singing group in the future -- maybe even this one. I definitely want to have a "wine and song" party in the early summer, once my committee work is behind me. I used to do that, especially in the days of grad school when a bottle of wine was enough to start a party. It was *lots* of fun.

      It's amazing to me how many people who sing have told me to "stay hydrated". I am definitely going to pay attention to that advice!

    2. I just have to pipe in and say that Shape Note singing is a total hoot. It's not like anything you've heard before. We used to host a group at the music school where I worked and it's like... well... how to describe it. Sorta like a room full of people singing/shouting at the top of their lungs in a very forceful, rhythmic and determined manner - think vocal foot stomping. Anyhow, it's nothing like what the words "sacred harp" would conjure in most people's minds. Definitely a style meant to be experienced through participation rather than through performances. I think Evelyn is right, it would be a great choice if you're at all intimidated about how your voice sounds but still want the fun of singing with others.

    3. Evelyn is one smart cookie; I admire her a lot. Fortunately, I'm not remotely intimidated by singing with other people (I've even written, directed, and performed in musicals at the math meetings for huge audiences)! It's singing alone that is surprisingly hard to me. I didn't expect that at all, given how much I love singing in groups.

      But I will certainly keep Shape Note singing in mind!