A Hard Lesson to Learn

By Joe Rector

Maybe I’m a bit “touched” in the head, but at the age of 70-plus, I signed up for singing lessons. Part of the reason I agreed to take the lessons was to help a friend. Also, I wanted to sing better than I do now. The dates were set, and I was excited to see how much improvement the instructor could bring about.

Thanks to three years of choir, as well as sixth-period athletics and band, I was able to graduate from high school with an inflated GPA. I also sang in the church choir. In college, I sang in the men’s glee club for a couple of years. Until I discovered that I would have to take advanced French, my plan was to major in vocal music to become a high school choir director.

Over the years, smoking worked its evil magic on my throat. Then a serious problem with acid reflux ate away at my vocal cords until even talking too much while teaching classes caused my voice to slip away and become a mere whisper.

Singing ended. I no longer could hit the lower notes on the bass line. When I began to sing a tune, my croaking embarrassed me. I became a tenor, but not a very good one, and, eventually, just quit trying.

With rest, some of my singing abilities returned. The minister heard me one day and told me that I should join the choir. I thanked her but declined. That same evening, the phone rang, and Ashley, the choir director’s wife, called to ask me to join the group. She was a former student and her husband, Gage, is the director. I agreed to give it a try.

The more I sang, the better my voice got. I even had begun thinking that singing a solo and joining the praise band were possibilities. The lessons were added to better my chances of achieving those goals. During the time I spent with Gage, my sound improved, and he helped me understand how to get the most out of my voice. We discussed a song that I could sing at church. Gage, a wonderful director and the recent winner of a national singing competition, found what he said was my best range and put me to work on the song.

I was going right along with him and couldn’t wait to have the song down so well that I could sing it at church. At my last lesson, Gage sent the piano accompaniment to which I could sing along. Then I sang a couple of times and recorded those takes so I could critique my performance and find things on which I needed to work.

Nothing is worse than hearing how bad I actually sound when I sing alone. I met with Gage at choir practice to tell him that the idea of my singing in front of the congregation was no longer possible. I realized that my voice is for a choir, not a solo. Gage has helped me to once again sing bass. I am eternally grateful. However, I know just how bad my tone is and won’t subject others to it.

I’ll stay in the choir; it’s fun and I’ve made new friends. My solo career was shut down before it drew the first breath. I’ll continue to sing in the car or shower and let the real singers perform solos for our congregation. I realize in this effort that I am a helper bee, not a queen bee. I further learned that humility can be a hard lesson to learn.