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Guest Post from a Singer Who Never Thought She Was a Singer


Susan Spaeth Cherry

When I was 7 or 8, I was in my friend's basement, listening to songs from "The Music Man" on vinyl. My friend belted out one tune after another like a miniature Ethel Merman, but I was too shy to join in, even though I could sing on pitch and knew the songs.

As a teen, I rarely sang unless I was driving with the radio on. I never considered joining my school's choir or auditioning for a show. Singing just wasn't "my thing," or so I thought.

Decades later, I started doing karaoke with my grown daughter at a bar that had private rooms. To my surprise, it was so much fun! So in my 50s, I joined a choir-- one where you didn't have to audition. I was astounded at how much I enjoyed our weekly rehearsals and our performances.

Then came the Covid pandemic, and as I sang alone at Zoom choir rehearsals, I realized that aging had not been kind to my voice. I decided that a few lessons might do me good. Just a few.

That was two years ago. I am still taking voice lessons today and loving them.

But my journey toward becoming a better singer has not been easy. It has required a lot of patience and an ability to deal with frustration-- not my strengths. It didn't take long for me to realize that a person's intelligence has little to do with mastering singing skills. That comes only with lots of practice.

When I started my lessons, I knew nothing about the mechanics of the voice (or for that matter, exactly where the vocal folds were located in my body!) I had allergies and reflux, which gave my singing a "gunky" quality. Eating certain foods made this problem worse, but it took a long time to figure out what those were. I didn't know how to breathe correctly, so I couldn't hold long notes. And it was very hard for me to keep my sternum lifted because of my lanky body build. I couldn't even stand up for my whole lesson because I didn't have the stamina. At choir rehearsals, we always sat.

There were an overwhelming number of techniques to learn, like how to put my sound forward to keep it clear, how to change registers with subtlety, and how to form different vowels. Most importantly, I had to learn how to use intention to get the result I wanted. It took a while for me to believe this was necessary. Restless minds like mine tend to wander, and you can't hold an intention if you're thinking about what to make for dinner or how you're going to meet your next work deadline. But I came to realize that intention and focus were the keys to my improvement.

I continue to learn fascinating facts about the brain/voice connection. And I am thrilled that research has found singing to be one of the best things you can do to keep your aging brain nimble.

Having a good relationship with my teacher has been crucial to my improvement. Singing evokes emotion; so does failing to sing the way you want to. I was lucky to find a teacher who really understands me as a person. She knows how to handle my ups and downs-- when to push, and when to tell me to "put down the big hammer" and give myself a break.

I am in a much better choir now, one for which I had to audition. Singing is more important to me than I ever thought it could be. It lifts my mood, and at times, it has even been a spiritual experience for me. Much to my surprise and delight, singing has become one of the most important parts of my life.

- Susan Spaeth Cherry, February 2023

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