This past Sunday, I sang a solo. Our congregation was celebrating our beautifully renovated synagogue. I’m the alto in a quintet that sings on the High Holidays and for special occasions. One of our numbers was a barbershop mix set to the tune of Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time.” I had the lead.
What a great piece to sing! And it’s rare for an alto to have the main melody. We’ve been practicing for weeks.
But, of course, despite all that preparation and encouragement from my fellow singers, I was nervous. Not just the typical oh-my-gosh-I’m-performing-in-front-of-hundreds-of-people nervous. It was scleroderma-related.
Years of lung scarring have made it harder for me to inhale a full breath, and it definitely affects my ability to hold notes and breathe with appropriate phrasing when I sing. I also have dry mouth from Sjögrens, and when I sing, I never know if I’ll either (a) have to cough at an inopportune moment or (b) collect so much saliva in my mouth that I can’t pronounce clearly. On Sunday, I was constantly clearing my throat before it was our turn—just this side of feeling like my throat would guck up.
Then there was the senior-moment-side of nervous. As many times as I’d reviewed my words, I was afraid my mind would freeze and I’d forget. Since the words were in Hebrew, they were harder to remember, even as the phrases were familiar (the opening prayer of the blessings after meals). Lately, I find that when I’m more self-conscious, my brain can go on the fritz for word recall, as if a file drawer gets stuck and refuses to open until I relax.
As a fallback, I had my music in front of me. But I wanted to make eye-contact with the audience.
Finally, it was our turn to sing. Two of the other members of the group are experienced barbershop singers, which was a good thing, since we were performing a capella. My nerves eased as we swung through the tune. In fact, our voices blended beautifully. I had enough breath, I didn’t cough, and I didn’t lose my place. A good sound system really helped. I felt great. We received many compliments afterward.
Most importantly, we had a wonderful time and added just the right bounce to an already upbeat morning. Music has a way of bringing joy into the world. I may not be able to play an instrument any more, but I’m so grateful I can still sing.
Image Credit: Israel Palacio