MY MUSICAL BACKGROUND--THE LONG VERSION!
I always loved singing, since I was a kid. We were very poor, but singing and music were some of the few entertainments we could afford. We would have been working class or maybe better, but my dad was an alcoholic who really didn't care about his family. He made a good living, but he used his paycheck every week on drinking. My mom mostly stayed at home, as wives did back in the 60's, although I remember she sometimes took odd typing jobs or had a brief job after I went to school. I was the youngest of four by 8 years so I had three much-older brothers.
My mom was a professional singer when she was younger, in the 40's, and I worshipped my mom, so I guess that's one reason I always loved it. My brothers also loved music. We all loved the Beatles and showtunes, as well as various types of rock, pop, and folk music. I had a little record player that my brother got for me when he was in the air force, and he also got me some of my first records, like West Side Story and The Sound of Music. I think we also had 1776. Later I got the Partridge Family album and more.
My mom played the accordion and so did my brother David. I played the flute in elementary school, and my brother Pat played the clarinet. Stephen played the guitar. We didn't play like a band or anything but we all loved to play and also to sing. None of us was any good except my mom. She died before she could teach me anything about singing, or much of anything else.
My mom died when I was 10 and it was pretty devastating to me. Still, I always wanted to be a singer and would act out performing. I would use our fireplace hearth as a stage. Or I would put my stuffed animals on it and they would be my audience. I loved to sing high, even then. I was in chorus from about 4th grade in elementary. I learned a little about how to read music from being in choir in junior high, and then later, in high school. I stopped playing the flute at one point because of a trauma associated with my dad (long story). But I never stopped singing, thank goodness.
In choir, I didn't really learn how to sing well; they want you to make a fairly quiet sound. I never learned how to use my breath to support my sound. So I had a very breathy sound that was pretty out of tune. In high school I was stuck as an alto, partly because the choir teacher didn't like my high notes, which were probably pretty screechy and sharp. I learned how to read music better in high school because being an alto, you seldom have the melody. My low notes were still quiet but didn't require as much breath as the higher ones so I was relatively in tune.
In my junior year, I think, I started taking voice lessons. I learned some things but still didn't make the whole connection about how to use my breath to sing, no matter what the teacher told me. I learned very good diction and some other things. I tried to audition for some things like the high school musicals and some choir solos, but between my lack of breath support and my horrible stage fright, I always tanked.
You see, I was very insecure growing up. My mother doted on me but she didn't make sure we did simple things like brush our teeth, wash behind our ears, etc. and we were not taught to look at things in the world around us or any real social skills. So I was picked on a lot in school and didn't have many friends. Later, I had more friends but I was always kind of a geek. And a number of horrible things that happened in my life caused me to be more insecure. My dad was an unpredictable drunk and we were often scraping for money. My mom died when I was 10 so I was stuck with my dad, who neglected me. I was put into a foster home when I was 13 and got rejected by two of them before I found a good one. So all those things combined to make me even more insecure than your average teenager. Then, of course, failing all those auditions didn't help. I had really bad stage fright. I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for me, I'm just telling you how it was so you can see the kind of person I was and how important music was in my life.
I was relatively self-centered, too, because I was not taught otherwise. I just wanted people to like me. But it's hard to make friends when you don't really look beyond yourself and your own little world. I loved singing, but no one else wanted to hear it. My voice was pleasant enough, and I was born with a fairly good ear and a wide range, but I had such bad vocal habits and lack of breath that the rest didn't matter so much.
When I graduated high school, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I had no money but knew I wanted to go to college (fortunately it was cheap back then, especially in California). I had a vague idea of being an actor and I got a small drama scholarship in high school. But the one acting class I took was boring and I hated it. I was taking music classes, too, but knew I couldn't be a singer. That's how bad I was, I KNEW I couldn't be any kind of a singer except in choirs.
Eventually I did settle down as a music major . My new husband, who I'd been dating since high school, started grad school, so I went with him, to SUNY Stony Brook, to finish my undergrad degree. The music program there was mostly theory-oriented and they didn't really care too much how good you were in your instrument, if you weren't one of the top, best people. The best singers got the best faculty teachers and the rest of us got graduate students who, while they knew how to sing, didn't know anything about teaching singing. That makes no sense to me, because, in a way, the people who are the worst should get the best teachers, since they need the most help? Well, it makes sense to me...anyway, we didn't even have recitals, that's how bad this program was.
I did do a lot of growing up then, and I learned a lot about music, but my voice didn't improve much. New Yorkers can be very pushy so being around those people, in combination with just maturing a bit, I learned how to stand up for myself and speak my mind. Maybe a little too much :)
So in my last year of college, we moved to UT El Paso, where my husband got his first job. I had to finish my degree there, to finish with the SUNY degree, but they didn't have all of the music theory and history that SUNY required for the music degree, so I had to change my major to Liberal Arts, with an emphasis in Music, English and History. That meant I just had to take certain classes in each field. The music department there was much more performance-oriented so I learned a lot, and I did have to do recitals. I improved somewhat but still didn't make that mental breakthrough I needed to learn how to support my singing with breathing. I still had pretty bad stage fright, too.
Then we moved to Illinois and I had a fantastic voice teacher there. It was just happenstance; he was a semi-retired opera singing with many years of singing experience all over the world, not just some guy out of grad school. He was a great guy, really funny, and we really connected. He knew just how to tell you about the music and what to do, and he was honest about things.
Finally, in one lesson, he finally got me to sing the proper way, using my breath. It was huge for me. What he helped me discover was singing, I had always known how to do, but I thought it was just shouting. When you think about it, singing is just sustained yelling. Most voice teachers don't like to say that, probably because it would make people strain their voices in the wrong way. But for me, it finally connected. When you go to shout, you take a deep breath, and you use it! I still had a lot of work to learn sustaining the breath (and still do!) but this was one of the high points in my life. I have a pretty loud voice now because of being able to sing the correct way! Before I was not loud at all.
A few years later I was no longer taking voice lessons, and no longer in Illinois. I still was in choirs for a while but got tired of them because I'd learned so much about choral conducting (I was briefly a masters student in that), and had been in some choirs with fantastic conductors, so being in UCR, that was not as good of a music department, was too annoying. Also, I was getting older, and all of the students were 19 or so, and I just felt too out of place. I was mostly working and trying to figure out what I was really going to do with my life, if anything. Would I be a teacher or a clerical worker? Those were my two choices. I didn't do much singing for a few years.
It wasn't until about 1990 that I discovered karaoke. I wasn't very good at first, but after a while I got the hang of it. I got my own machine and started learning songs and taping myself. Basically I used karaoke to improve my singing, the way I used to with voice lessons. I didn't have stage fright because I could drink during karaoke. And eventually I found that I could even sing without drinking. I still get nervous, but it's not paralyzing like it was. So it's taken 20 some odd years, but I've finally gotten to the point where not only do I get to sing, but others actually enjoy hearing me! That's just phenomenal.
My life has improved a lot; I am no longer poor and I have a great husband, house, and dog. We travel a lot and I have been in some great far-off places like Ireland, Guam, and Germany. I never really got a career, but that sort of thing has never been important to me beyond making money. I guess because of the way I was brought up, work was always about making money and not other things. I had some disappointments along the way, such as not finishing grad school or losing some jobs. I was a teacher for a few years but never finished my credential. I worked for a dotcom that a friend started for five years and that was a great job. That also showed me I had some skills beyond typing. I learned how to make webpages and got really into my own webpage. That is my other passion besides music, I guess, but it's not nearly as fun as singing. I mostly enjoy creating stuff and having other people like it, but actually typing stuff up or maintaining a webpage is pretty boring. I do have a really huge webpage now and it's pretty successful for a fan page. I have over 100 volunteers and I'm actually making a little bit of money to support it.
I haven't really done anything except volunteer work for the past few years because there aren't many good jobs in the area where I live now. I am either too qualified or not qualified enough, or the pay sucks, or the hours suck. And my husband makes a lot now so I don't really NEED to work. I am still sort of looking for something, though, because we want to get a second car and it would be nice to contribute to that.
I started taking singing lessons again at the college last year and it has helped me improve further, as well as remember some of those things from college I had forgotten. I think voice lessons benefit anyone who wants to sing or improve their singing. It feels so good when you can improve in something you enjoy doing.
So also, now, I am starting a band. I've finally gotten to the point where I think I can be a lead singer in a rock band, which is something I wouldn't have thought possible ten or twenty years ago. I'm too old now to be a star (and too fat) but at least I can do something I love, and maybe get some extra money. I still love karaoke, but I hate having to wait an hour to sing and only getting three songs in. My husband doesn't love karaoke and so we only go for a few hours. Now I have three guys in my band, so, once we've practiced and learned our songs, we can go play whenever/wherever they will let us, and play for hours. And I can sing for hours! It's really a dream come true and I'm so excited.
I just wanted to share this with you....hope you enjoyed reading it!