Bits and Pieces

I’ll never forget the first time I had to sing on a stage, I was around eleven years old and sang Mother Dear by Estelle Liebling. I was so nervous, I was trembling with butterflies, mouth desert dry, with visions of peeing myself onstage, how mortifying. But I made it through the whole song without mistakes or wetting my pants. From then on I performed in contests, (The Kiwanis Pancake Festival one was always fun) and productions or sang solos at school. I was in the choir every year and was in the chorus line groups too.

From ages 11 to 19 music and singing dominated my life. I practiced every day, even when we visited relatives in California for the summer, I still had to practice. I wonder how many days total of my life I spent singing if it was tallied up? Funny, I’d largely forgotten about all of that practicing until I recently visited California, and one of my cousins mentioned how he’d been so impressed by it. I sang opera, my teacher said I was a coloratura, she was a professor at the local university. Music was her life, she loved teaching. She was the only person teaching opera to children that we knew of. I loved to sing and got satisfaction from learning difficult runs and hitting the high notes. When I learned a song backward and forwards, I could then pour my soul into it. The swell of song transported me into another more resonant realm, smooth, flowing, lilting, the sound reverberating out of me, I felt powerful.

I was introverted, and performing helped me get over some of my social fears. I still became nervous before performing, especially if it was a contest, it was challenging, but I loved it. I enjoyed performing in productions the most though, where you got to be with others and put on a show together. It was so playful and fanciful. I loved all of the costumes and learning the movements and dances. What I really loved was the pleasure the audience derived from our performances. In junior high, it felt so good when a silver-haired woman gushed over me after a concert saying how she got chills and tears in her eyes from hearing me sing Gesu Bambino.

I liked being recognized and appreciated. I’ve always loved bringing comfort and joy to others in one way or another. It was so wonderful of people to come up to me and say how much they enjoyed the performance.

Now I have all of the memories of those days stirred up, I’m singing the arias in my mind and it’s as if I’m there, the sounds, sensations, smells, lighting, the feelings, it’s odd that only wisps of memories solidify and abruptly dissolve again, fragmented. I can’t string them together to make a linear whole to relive it fully in my mind. Only random bits and pieces.

A fond memory is when our voice teacher got all of her younger students cast as street urchins in a university production of The Ballad of Baby Doe. We loved dressing in costumes and wearing stage makeup, we’d giggle at how silly we looked with the exaggerated face paint. We wore cute caps, knickers, ruffled shirts, and capes. I got to sing a solo and even got complimented in the local paper. I dreamed of becoming a professional and admired all of the grown-up performers, I wanted to be like them.

I eventually stopped singing and always meant to go back to it one day. My favorites were Depuis le jour by Charpentier, The Queen of the Night and Ach ich fuhls by Mozart, The Bell Song by Delibes, Georgia’s song by Rachmaninoff, Caro nome by Verdi, La Rondine and O mio babbino caro by Puccini, Cradle Song by Rorem, Loveliest of Trees by John Duke, Dido’s Lament by Purcell and Summertime by Gershwin.

There are so many creative activities I used to love and have always wanted to return to, but other life responsibilities interfered. We had our book club discussion of Refuse to Choose today and it brought me back to all of the interests I’ve had in the past, how I took so many college courses trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, how I’ve always loved learning and artistic pursuits. Now I may have the chance to explore them again and it’s so exciting. I’ve taken tentative steps and plan to explore more along the way as I build my own business. Maybe I can incorporate music and art somehow. For now, I’m focusing mostly on learning how to earn my livelihood by being my own boss. Still finding my way. One day I’ll sing again.

Michelle Miyagi
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