I have to give credit where credit is due, to the Torch Girls of Ferndale, and in particular, to one who didn’t feel worthy to take the stage in the beginning…
She came to me in a private lesson and flat-out told me that it wouldn’t hurt her feelings if I said she wasn’t good enough, that she couldn’t sing and wasn’t gonna cut it for this project. She said she signed up for Torch This! on a lark, thinking it would be just a fun, amateur adventure (it was, but not in quite the sense she got). But as the ladies started signing up and singing for me, she felt overwhelmed at how good these girls were, even professional, and she didn’t think she’d fit in because her experience in singing in front of people was little to none.
Essentially, she was ready to be shown the door, but I wouldn’t have it. First, I put the choice squarely in her hands: If you really feel uncomfortable with the music, then I won’t force you do anything that doesn’t feel right; it’s your choice. Then I had her do some vocal exercises for me, and it turned out she had good pitch awareness and could sing a melody if I was only playing harmony. Finally, I said, let’s pick a song for you that has a comfortable, narrow range and we’ll see if that feels good in your voice.
I chose “Almost Like Being in Love” from Brigadoon, and I couldn’t help but think of Judy Garland, as she was one of the “torch-y” voices that made it famous. My singer accepted the song and the challenge. In the weeks ahead, we met a few times, and every phrase she sang, she would ask me, “Did I do OK?” with her nose wrinkled as if to answer the question for me (“Nah; it was BAD, wasn’t it?”).
But she was progressing! She was coach-able! She was committed! And it came out in her singing. I told her she simply had to deal with that part of her brain that constantly looks for outside approval, believing it would never come. This woman had a voice; she just didn’t believe in it.
Well, that disbelief didn’t last long. I don’t know what happened, or how she did it, but by the time we got around to working with microphones in group rehearsals, she got up there and channeled a little bit of Garland and Ethel Merman for “Almost Like Being in Love,” blowing everybody’s mind. Thunderous applause! “Where did that voice come from?!” we said.
She killed the demon. It’s not something that any teacher can do. A teacher can suggest the possibility, maybe even share how it might be done; but ultimately, it’s the singer’s doing. If she could do it, anybody can.
And that’s the way it went, all the way to Cliff Bells. The once self-deprecating singer opened the show in front of a crazy-packed house with that song, and all the girls felt it at their lips: “What a day this has been; what a rare mood I’m in…”
You know the rest.