Often referenced but seldom written, it’s here: the “post for another day.” It’s the one where I talk about an uncomfortable truth.
I’m losing my singing ability.
It’s been bothering me for about a year now, and though I’ve referenced it on a couple of occasions here and there, I’ve never really talked about it in a public manner until now. Whether it’s caused by advancing age, genetics, too many years of rock and roll, I don’t know — but my singing days are pretty much over, and this time, for good. If I told you there haven’t been many, many private tears and general anguish about it, I’d be lying. If I told you that I don’t seethe with sad envy when I hear singers my age (and older, like Tony Bennett, Sting, Daryl Hall, others) still knocking it out of the park, I’d be lying.
If I told you this doesn’t terrify me, I’d be lying. Performing is all I’ve really ever known since about the age of 11, when I started singing with my sister and our friends in a tiny little Baptist church in Milwaukee. There hasn’t been a single day since then when singing hasn’t been at the forefront of just about everything I do.
This morning, I read an article about Bono of U2, facing the possibility that he’ll never play guitar again. I couldn’t imagine not doing the one thing you love the most — until now. My hope is that I can adopt a healthy attitude about it all, and arrive at a sane balance between remembering the voice I had, and dealing with the one I now have, which is decidedly weak in two major areas:
- I can no longer control the quality of a sustained pitch. Fine motor control over the laryngeal musculature is becoming more difficult; sometimes impossible. Therefore, I struggle to control the tonal integrity of a long phrase.
- Accuracy in moving from note to note has been severely compromised. I can no longer sing multi-note phrases with 100% pitch accuracy. Of the two weak areas, this one is the more horrific for me to accept.
I’ve done some research on the aging voice, and ultimately, what it comes down to is control – specifically, lack thereof. I can no longer make the voice manifest what’s in my head. Truly, it must be similar to, say, dealing with the aftermath of a stroke, when the brain is completely functional with regard to cogent thoughts, but the mouth won’t form the words that express them. Indeed, I can’t find the words to accurately express to you my desperate frustration at this reality. I suppose it’s the same frustration an aging athlete feels, when her body can’t perform like it used to, even though her mind knows exactly what form and technique she wants to use.
On occasions when I’ve lodged a passing complaint about my situation, well-meaning friends have said things like, “I’d take your voice as it is right now any day,” or “Don’t be silly; you still have plenty of years left.” Those comments, though spoken in a spirit of love and encouragement, I must admit, sting. We’re not talking a passive hobby here, or an avocation I enjoy. Rather, singing has been my job since 1980. It’s among the things that can be counted on three fingers that I do relatively well, and now it’s fading away. It’s a jagged enormous pill, and on days like today, I feel like I’m choking on it.
Conversely, I know I have to put things in their proper perspective. I can still walk, think, write, speak, teach, play my instruments, laugh, and be generally annoying. I rejoice in that, and I don’t take it for granted for a New York minute, because it could be a whole lot worse. But I don’t want to be like Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney, who stayed at the fair way, way too long, to the point where their most ardent admirers winced. That’s not going to be me.
I “officially” retired from singing in the summer of 2012, resurfacing only to record the mini-album for my Daddy a year later. Last month, an area jazz society asked me to do a gig on the 5th of January. I thought about it for a few days, and ended up turning them down, because I would have just stressed and worried about it every single day of my Christmas break, and I didn’t want to do that to the Thriller or the rest of my family. It is time to hang it up, and my resolution for 2015 is to find positive ways to spin it and ultimately be comfortable with it.
So hey, don’t feel too bad for me. My students are very forgiving of my old-lady modeling in rehearsal, and that’s all that matters. I’m on the horse till it throws me. But truth be told, I will always miss what was…whatever that is. I suppose it’s to be expected.