UBC Day 3: I’ve Got the Music in Me

This prompt was taken from this website and wow did the words flow better than I hoped!better than I hoped!

Tell the story of the first time that you learned to do something really well.

I am approaching this prompt with the giddy expectation of writing about it and the nervousness that comes with sharing a little more of myself. When I first saw this question, I felt a rising tide of dread fill me with the implications of having to write about myself. “Can I write something about a fictional character?” I asked my friend, already knowing that maybe I was cheating.

He said that I could, but I still found it very difficult to even do that. Thoughts of writing about an assassin good at her art, a space pilot who made flawless approaches for the landing, and a mage comfortable in their magic usage came to mind, and yet I couldn’t dredge up a whole lot of creative spark for that.

Instead, I asked myself frantically, “Am I good at anything? What do I do well?”

I’m an avid reader, I told myself. I learned how to read Braille when I was two and it has been something that has stuck with me to this day. Or, I am very good at massages even before I went to school for them. But was there an aha moment that I experienced when I went from ‘gosh, I wish I could do this’, to ‘Wow, you’re a badass bitch!’? To dwell on what I’m good at makes me feel such discomfort because southern church culture says we should not be boastful at all, we should always be humble. But does humility have to mean being less than?

In an effort to wrench myself out of the trap of feeling not quite good enough but not wanting to be a braggart either, I am just sitting here putting words to screen with no idea of how any of it will turn out.

I have always loved music from the time I was a small child. There is a great story about me bossing the bus driver around and demanding that he play music because I wanted to hear it on the way to pre-school.

As I grew older, though, there was always a constant refrain that I would be told. I remember speaking about this on the blog a couple of years ago. When I would hear music, there would be a missing piece that I did not understand. I would sing and people told me that I was tone deaf. When I was in a small chorus in elementary school, the teacher said that I needed to stay on the melody. But there was something about the melody that lacked a little something. I could never put my finger on it.

I stopped singing in front of others for a time and would do so in my room as I listened to the radio, or played back the myriad songs that I had on cassette.

It wasn’t until I purchased my very first cassette on my own that I realized people were singing the notes that I believed to be missing. Thus was my realization of harmony. The missing piece was the harmony, either above or below. If they went a third higher than the melody, I took the third lower. It was incredibly important that I filled in the missing puzzle piece to make it complete.

Musical life became so much better once I joined middle and high school chorus. An alto, you say? I can sing all the harmony lines I want, you say? I may never have to sing a melody again, you say?

It was like the world was my stage. If someone sang a solo, I wanted it to be a duet. I practiced singing harmonies until I could fill in the piece.

Church also helped with this. I joined a Church of Christ first, which calls for not using any other instruments save your voice. The hymns may have been somewhat boring to me, but the harmonies that the members made were absolutely breathtaking.

Later, I joined the praise teams of a Pentecostal church and eventually a non-denominational church. But there was then another missing piece.

People would say that I sounded like a white girl. That I couldn’t sing. Once, a worship leader pulled me aside after a solo and said, “You have a beautiful voice, but I guess I was hoping that you’d have more soul. You know, because you’re black.’

The comment embarrassed me. I enjoyed singing and I was learning how to use my voice. I was keeping close my other secret of synesthesia, which for me presents itself in several ways. For the context of this prompt, though, every note has a color. Every musical piece has a main color while other colors thread their way through it. Voices have color. I was resonating with music in a way that I never had when my middle school choir teacher told me that she was proud of how I sang, and that it wasn’t like other black girls did. Which for her meant to sing straight notes and only straight notes with no movement save what the song called for at the time. I was finding my own unique voice. So to have this worship leader tell me that I was not singing to the expectations that she believed I should based on race was incredibly hurtful for me.

I don’t know that there was a defining moment when I realized that I had a distinct voice and it was okay for me to sing the way that I wished to do so. But all of a sudden I was moving up to Washington and busting out songs by the great Whitney Houston. I was singing country. I was singing whatever the hell I wanted to, and it was alright.

So, perhaps this prompt should really be asking how I found the freedom to just be who I was without putting other people’s expectations and preconceived notions on my shoulders. I believe that I have done that. Singing is so therapeutic for me. It is soothing and a way that I care for myself when the world is too hard. It is my way of celebration and sharing grief. It is my way to heal. It is my way to connect with others. Singing isn’t just what I do,but it is who I am even when I feel as though I am going to choke on the silence of things unsaid, traumas unresolved. Singing is freedom, and in that freedom, I float on a cloud of notes and rhythms, melodies and harmonies both major and minor. And I am the better for it all.

One thought on “UBC Day 3: I’ve Got the Music in Me

  1. You have a lovely voice, and you have a lovely soul, and that comes through in your singing.

    It’s enraging how often people will dump trash expectations on people (especially children), which end up squashing joy, and sometimes even the potential of it. I’m so glad you’ve found yours.

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