Last Monday I landed myself right in it. I trundled along to the big choir I belong to, the one with roughly 80 members (the choir I used to dread going to) and put myself forward to sing a solo at the upcoming summer concert. Three years ago I was a jittery nervous wreck, hiding in plain sight during the tortuous tea break and feeling adrift in a sea of unfamiliar faces. Seven days ago I strode onto a stage and handed the choir director the piano sheet music for Never Enough, an extremely shouty and extremely screechy song from The Greatest Showman (a film sort of reviewed in a previous post.)
There is an anthemic song in The Greatest Showman entitled THIS IS ME! It’s all about informing the public that it’s perfectly ok to be a fat woman with a beard, or a bloke with a couple of horns on his head, to be albino white or ebony black, or to cover every inch of yourself in tattoos – you’re still someone WORTHY OF EVERYONE’S LOVE. If you’ve ever watched the tear-inducing Employable Me on the Beeb you’ll know that this song is way too overly optimistic, to say the very least.
Back to me. There I was, middle-aged with a menopausal ‘tache, my albino white hair, my M&S old lady clothes, marching to the beat of my palpitating heart, somehow believing that I was capable of belting out one of the biggest numbers from a massive musical hit. As I made my way down the rows of chairs, in a kind of mindless haze, a new song popped into my head and it was called THIS ISN’T ME!
I’m not brave (I warbled inside my own head)
Yes I’m bruised
Am I who I’m meant to be?
THIS ISN’T ME
Look out cos here I come
I’m marching on stage to the beat I drum
I’m too scared to be seen
I make loads of apologies
Cos THIS ISN’T ME
Our director had been pre-warned by a lovely committee lady that I’d be assaulting him with a bit of sheet music and my presence. I’d bought Never Enough online for £7.99 from a site called Music Notes. They sent the pdf and I printed it out. I chose the piano version entitled ‘for singer pro.’ I assumed that meant for the professional singer (which I’m not of course) and it turned out to be an identical accompaniment to the one used in the film. Well, you’d think I’d found the holy grail of sheet music, for the director (who’ve I’ve previously never said a word to) grabbed the music from my hand (I embellish not) and practically ran to the grand piano used at all our rehearsals. ‘I love this song,’ he kept muttering over and over again, ‘do you know it?’ he asked our 2nd director, a young lad of 24. And there they sat, side by side on the piano stool, ignoring me completely whilst caressing the prized sheet music.
Suddenly the director barked out a command to our secretary to photocopy the music so he could take it home. Then the young lad demanded a copy. Then four people, I’d previously not noticed standing around, put their hands up and demanded copies too. Slight cheek (and also illegal) thought I, considering the husband had forked out £7.99. Our director attempted to play the accompaniment and failed miserably. Locating the very high notes on the piano seemed to be a particular struggle. I helped him out and he finally noticed me.
‘She plays piano too,’ he muttered to the young lad, somehow managing to notice and ignore me at the same time. It was like being the uninvited Alice at the mad choir’s tea party. ‘What do you think of it?’ he continued. ‘It’s…’ I began, before realising this was directed at his sidekick. The young lad agreed that it sounded like a very good song. ‘I think it’s lovely,’ the director said, unable to hide his absolute glee at getting his hands on a copy. ‘Have you seen the film?’ he asked the lad, ‘Never heard of it,’ the lad replied, which was a gigantic surprise being that said lad is an absolute powerhouse of knowledge when it comes to musicals. ‘I’m going to play it,’ the director said and off he went, playing all the wrong notes until he decided that playing a few simple chords in the right key was the better option. Meanwhile I stood at the side of the piano, twiddling my thumbs and wondering what to do next.
Was this an audition? Was this just to veto my song choice? Was I supposed to sit back down and leave them to it?
I chose to suddenly launch into song alongside the director’s very precarious and fumbling playing. He and the lad continued to chat on to each other, seemingly oblivious to my presence, so I thought what the heck and sang the song through (pretty roughly) at the side of the piano, my hands shaking whilst the rest of the choir burbled away in the background enjoying the break. ‘This isn’t me!’ I screamed silently in my head.
‘Lovely, lovely,’ murmured the director, soto voce. I couldn’t tell if he was enraptured with his own playing, the talent of Messrs Pasek and Paul or with my stunning voice. The song finished. ‘Your audition is in two weeks,’ the director suddenly said, still mysteriously avoiding eye contact (maybe he’s shy?) – ‘we’ll do it in a separate room so don’t worry, the choir won’t be able to hear it clearly and we’ll provide a microphone.’ And I went back to my seat.
The break ended and the director commanded our attention from the stage. ‘Anyone seen The Greatest Showman? he asked via the mic that goes round his head. Two of us put our hands up. ‘Oh, you’re in for a treat,’ he said to the choir as a whole, with no explanation or anything. ‘What!’ I inwardly exclaimed, followed by: ‘Oh my God, what have I done. Noooooo! You can’t publicly set me up for a gigantic fall like that, especially when you didn’t look at me once! You can’t put that kind of pressure on my aged head; you haven’t even heard my audition……..this isn’t me!’
Since then I’ve been running Never Enough on a loop on YouTube, to such an extent that I’m absolutely SICK of it. What a revolting, monotonous song, I keep thinking. Why did this song seem like a good idea at the time? Why did I fall for that big set piece in the film, the one where Hugh Jackman keeps catching his breath at the wondrous singing voice of some Victorian opera singer? And most of all, why on earth did I think I was capable of belting out this belter of a song to an audience of roughly 300?
Seriously, there must be something wrong with me because this definitely isn’t me.
For I have the sort of voice which is more attuned to whiny little Folk songs; to the sort of thing John Denver was known for; to the kind of miserable songs Janis Ian used to churn out; to Paul Simon’s Sounds of Silence – that kind of uncool thing. It most definitely isn’t suited to a song which starts off on the E below middle C (you’ll know how low that is if you read music) and ends up on top E, and requires the singer to hold screechy high notes for a very, very long time.
I’ve sung through it a few times and boy does it take it out of you. I’ve got upper back ache, a sore throat, a strained neck, weird spasms happening around my mouth and worst of all I don’t know what to do with my hands. For I’ll have to stand there alone with nothing to hold. I could mimic the woman in the film, but that just feels a bit stupid without the eye catching dress and the stunning, youthful looks of Rebecca Ferguson.
I’m not a trained singer you see. Many, many moons ago a singing teacher came into our school and listened to a few of us sing. My music teacher said his intent was to find talented youngsters who he would give lessons to. I was one of the ones chosen to audition for him and the upshot was that he thought I was crap and not worthy of his time or presence (where was Gareth Malone when I needed him?) He went on to choose a girl who later appeared on a talent show on TV (so he clearly knew what he was talking about.) Strangely, his opinion did not deter me from continuing to warble in various choirs or around the house, but I’ve always had a slight sense of loss that I never had singing lessons. There’s still time though, being that anyone can pay for singing lessons these days.
No singing lessons means I lack the ‘operatic’ element and I’ve also never been taught how to convey emotion in a song. That kind of thing can come naturally of course, but with me it doesn’t, so the audience our director is so intent on ‘revving’ up for a performance of Never Enough can only be in for a let-down.
The reason I stepped forward for a solo is my age. I’m 57. Time is running out. There are certain things I want to do before fleeting Time has completely run out. Not a bucket list exactly. Nothing as momentous as that; not a list of things to tick off. Just, why not sing a solo before you’re really too old for anyone to even want to look at you, and before your voice disappears into a croak.
As I left the rehearsal the lovely committee lady approached me and said: ‘If you feel you can’t do the solo on the day Susan, don’t worry, we never make anyone go through with it if they really feel they can’t. Now go home and keep practising!’
I was left with the thought: ‘Why do they carry out auditions, when everyone is behaving as though my solo spot is in the bag?’ I’ll just have to wait and see what the outcome is at my audition, when they hear a 57 year old untrained, folksy-type singer, assaulting their ears with one of the loudest, screechiest, most emotional tunes to come out of a musical in years.