I have had the indescribable pleasure of spending some one on one time with my Grandson the last few weeks. He’s at such a fun age, 21 months old. He loves to sing and dance and play. He does it all with such careless abandon. He doesn’t worry about what others think, he just sings and dances and plays. The best part is, whenever he does something, he claps for himself, saying, “Yay, I did it!” Of course, I can’t help but clap for him and tell him, “Good Job!”
It gave made me pause. I’m sure many of us started life this way. I, like my Grandson, was the first child born to two doting parents and I was the first grandchild on both sides of the family. I have heard stories and seen pictures of me being the center of attention. I have always loved to sing, just like my Dad. He taught me how to sing, but never sang children’s songs, that was my Mom’s job. My Father taught me Frank Sinatra, especially the duets that Frank sang with his daughter, Nancy. He would teach me my (Nancy’s) part and then he would sing his (Frank’s) part. When we were done, he would always tell me what a great job I did. I thought I was the best singer, ever!
As I got older, I remember my Dad taking me to hear my “Uncle Jimmy” sing. He performed in some nightclubs in Queens, where we lived. A few times, I even got to sing with my Dad and my Uncle Jimmy. I still remember the applause. As I got a little older, my cousin Robby learned how to play the organ. He didn’t sing, so we were like Captain and Tennille, he would play and I would sing. We performed countless concerts for our family and they always applauded, of course. I can remember, though, I always had to sing “like a guy”. I now know what that means. My vocal range was much lower than the average female voice and certainly lower than the average female child.
Fast forward, and my family moved upstate. Not New Rochelle, like most people from the city thought, really upstate, to Clifton Park, in between Albany and Saratoga Springs. I made the difficult transition from Catholic School to Public School (and one with a graduation class of over 700)! I was the new girl, with really short hair and I talked funny, my Queens accent.
One of the things I was most excited about was that they had music class AND a school chorus. We didn’t have music class in Catholic School. In Catholic School, our regular teacher would have us write the words to church hymns and we would sing them for 15 minutes or so a week. I transferred into the school in the middle of third grade. I loved music class and I could hardly wait until forth grade when I could join the chorus. I was really excited when I got a solo in the first chorus concert of the year. What I didn’t realize, at the time, is that it was a spoken part. I just knew I got lots of applause! What I also didn’t realize at the time, is that in a children’s chorus, all the voices needed to sound the same, and well, mine didn’t. The chorus teacher took my parents aside at the end of the year and told them not to sign me up for chorus the following year. I will leave that teacher’s name out, but trust me, I remember it well.
That’s when I stopped clapping for myself.
How could I have thought I was a good singer? I was sure everyone was just being nice up until that point. I didn’t sing for two years. I auditioned and got parts in school plays, but I would only try out for the plays, not the musicals. When I got to seventh grade the curriculum mandated that I had to take band, chorus or general music. I didn’t play an instrument and none of the general music classes fit into my schedule. I had to take chorus. Unlike the last time, I was not at all excited for chorus.
During the first few days of chorus, each student had to go up front and the teacher, (Ms. Werker, now Ms. Rose), would play notes to see each student’s range to see what part they should sing. I tried to avoid going up there and I was one of the last kids to be tested. When I sang, Ms. Werker told me what a beautiful ALTO voice I had! As it turned out, many of the boy’s voices had not yet changed and on many songs I sang tenor and even bass! I got a few solos, this time singing ones, and was even selected for Swing Choir, a select group of singers. I continued to sing in High School, in Choraliers, in the Church Choir and Folk Group and actually made money by singing at weddings.
As an adult, I taught Vocal Performance and have sang publicly many times. I have heard applause for my singing frequently, but in the back of my mind, there’s still that nine year old girl who doubts herself. I’ve gone through some changes in the past year, but one of the biggest ones is that I’m finally starting to cheer for myself again. While it’s always nice to hear others cheer you on, the most important person to clap for you is you. So, I will always encourage my Grandson to clap for himself and to say, “I did it”. I value the important lesson my Grandson has taught me. Always clap for yourself, say, “I did it” and dance, sing and play like no one is watching.