My earliest memories of singing are from church. My grandparents were Southern Baptist, and I went to church with them. There was always lots of singing, and my grandpa had such a beautiful voice. I loved singing with him. When my mom, stepdad, and I moved to San Jose, CA when I was in 3rd grade, I started going to a church out there. It was a huge Baptist church and I was very active in it for a few years. My parents didn’t go, so I would go alone with a friend from school. Or at least I did until one day she told me I always overdressed for everything. It hurt my feelings. There were other people there that were mean, too, so I stopped going.
After that experience, I was hesitant to return to church but I tried one more time. I joined a different, smaller baptist church in Santa Clara. They had a vocal group for youths there, which I joined immediately. We performed around Christmas and at a few other events through the year. I could already read music because I played cello and trombone, plus had been singing in church for years. We rehearsed on Sunday nights at the music teacher’s house, and she always fed us ice cream after rehearsal. It is one of my fondest memories of that time, those small rehearsals (there were only like 6 of us.)
Around the same time, I discovered the San Jose Children’s Musical Theatre, or SJCMT. It was a program that did musicals throughout the year with casts of all ages, and everyone was cast that auditioned. You had to pay to be in the shows, but I always had a hardship scholarship so I could always join. I did so many shows with them. Some of my favorites were Oliver!, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Annie. I also did Hello, Dolly! at school around then, which was an amazing experience because I won the gypsy robe for helping out so much. It made me feel so special.
When I auditioned for Joseph, it was the first time I ever got a featured singing part in any show. The song we had to sing just fit my voice, and for once I didn’t come close to puking when it was my turn. Afterwards the director told me I had the small part immediately afterwards. It was what I wanted, and I was totally happy. Auditioning tore me up, sent me running to throw up in the bathroom, or tied my stomach up in knots and closed my throat so nothing would come out at all. I still hate auditions.
I also have fond memories of singing with some friends at our 8th grade graduation. I got such bad stage fright, I’m not sure I made any sounds on stage at all. But we made it through the song. The summer after 8th grade, my mother and I moved back to Houston. At that time I also decided I was done with the church. There was too much hypocrisy and even though I loved the friends I had there, there were plenty of other people masquerading as good people that were not. I came to hate it.
We moved into my great-grandfather’s house in West University in Houston. I attended Lamar High School, which was a magnet school that had a huge and varied population. They had an excellent arts program and offered dance, different choral groups, and theatre. When I first arrived I was put in the basic music class, but the first week of school they had us singing Paint With All the Colors of the Wind when my teacher pulled me aside and said I should move up to the Choraliers, which was a class but also a group that sang around town. I wasn’t used to getting singled out for my voice but I was honored.
Unfortunately, changing into Choraliers meant changing singing teachers, too. The new one was in charge of Chorale, too, which was a higher level singing group. She absolutely hated me, probably because I was so goth. She treated me like shit and I developed a complex about my voice that I still have today. I cannot sing by myself in front of people anymore. It’s terrible. Especially at karaoke, with everyone staring at me! My throat closes up and I nearly pass out. Awful.
But it wasn’t all bad. Choraliers was fun, and beyond that I was also on the dance team and had started taking ALL the theatre classes. I filled up all my electives with performance stuff to the point where I could have graduated a year early but chose not to, so I could stay and continue with my friends.
We had a talent show one year, and some of us dressed up like the Supremes and did a medley for it. It was a very fond memory. I even remember twisting my ankle on my way offstage in the ridiculously high heels my mom made me wear for the performance. I still can’t walk in heels!
Part of the reason high school was so much fun for me was because of all the arts I immersed myself in. I still talk to my high school theatre teacher all the time, he is part of my life and that makes me so happy. Upon graduating, most of that stopped.
I started to focus on writing, and the performing side of me went dormant for a long time. It wasn’t until years later that it started to come back, and that was all thanks to the San Diego Women’s Chorus. I had several friends that were in the chorus that talked me into coming to their open audition (just a voice test really, everyone gets in). Their director at the time was Christopher Allen. He was so silly, he made my voice test a piece of cake, even though I was horribly anxious over it.
The women of SDWC gave me a sisterhood that was missing from my life, and I will always be grateful for my time with them. In 2012, I was lucky enough to be able to fly to Denver with them to sing at the GALA conference. All the gay choruses from around the country and even the world come together to sing and perform for a week. It was an amazing experience. Christopher knew I could barely afford the trip, so while we were in Denver he slipped me $50 and told me to give some massage to a chorus person that needed it. I desperately needed the money. He was an angel. Chris passed away this year, and the world is a sadder place for it.
Another fond SDWC memory is singing at Disneyland as part of the candlelight processional for Christmas. Singing with so many people in such a magical place is something I will never forget.
I also joined a local San Diego singing group called the Encore Vocal Ensemble for a show or two. They’re a great group, but everyone was so far beyond me vocally that I still remain intimidated to sing with them.
Eventually though, I couldn’t afford the chorus fees and beyond that, had no childcare for the rehearsal times to hang with both groups. Also, I was slipping mentally and the added stress got to me. A chorus friend committed suicide, along with two other friends the same year, and I dropped out of both groups.
Now it’s been a few years, and I am starting to miss performing again. I pulled out my guitar the other day. Singing and playing an instrument at the same time is something I have never mastered. It is SO difficult. But I am hoping to learn to sing as I play guitar, and maybe get up the courage to someday let someone hear me. My relationship with my voice is so complicated. I just want to let it out, but I can’t. I am trying to have compassion for my creative process and the learning that I must undertake. I’m finding my voice, one day at a time.