Monday, May 4, 2009

A Change of Tune

Art from My Picture Book of Songs

As a little girl I sat on my grandma's lap at church, and listened to her sing the hymns with her beautiful alto voice. She moved her finger along the music and I could follow the parts even before I started taking piano and learned to read notes.

It was great training. I sang alto in all my school and church choirs, in trios and quartets, and with my friends and family. I can hear the alto part as naturally and clearly as I can hear the melody.

My Picture Book of Songs

But inexplicably a couple of years ago my voice changed. I am stuck in a no-woman's land between tenor and bass (in the baritone range) warbling hoarsely as I search for a tune. Baritone notes aren't written in the hymnal, and I don't have an ear for how it should sound. I croak now. I squawk.

It's heartbreaking to have one of my main talents, actually one of my great joys, disappear from my life. I brood about it every time I try to sing in the car, or at church, or to my grandkids. I've lost part of the rhythm of my personality.

It has gradually occurred to me that people lose abilities all the time and then rise to the challenge of change. Women have strokes and learn to walk and talk again, men go blind and learn to read braille—surely I can learn to sing a different song, too.

So I've started a new interlude. I got some Cd's for my car along with coordinating books of music, and this morning I sat at the piano and picked out parts for ten songs, combining the tenor and bass notes for my new range. I rehearsed the unfamiliar harmonies, and now I can practice with the Cd's as I drive.

My friend Sarah was telling me how her voice has changed. She still has one, but nobody's listening to it anymore. After being a full-time mom for thirty years, the kids have grown up and moved out and the techniques she's perfected seem unnecessary. Grace's audience has disappeared, too. She had leadership responsibilities that have passed to someone else's shoulders, and she's not ready for the tempo of her life to slow down. Many of us seem to have a whole repertoire of songs we won't be singing anymore. Thank goodness there are a million new ones to learn.

An interesting thing happened while I plunked out the solid, repetitive, low notes on the piano today. I realized that while I had been crooning my familiar refrain, other voices had added a rich, dependable quality to the chorus. The high notes need the low notes to resonate.

My tune has changed. Maybe I can become one of the voices singing "Dong" at the end of Carol of the Bells, or "Pum" to finalize The Little Drummer Boy. A sonorous "A-men" always thrills the congregation. It's time for me to be the accompaniment and let someone else do the solos.

Mary Engelbreit


Sheri said...

Those pictures from My Picture Book of Songs really took me back! I used to pretend I was that little blond girl, only I never had pigtails or the blue eyes. And I could never sing. Sorry to hear you've lost one of your beloved talents. I'm sure it will be restored to you (when all else is restored).

Keri(th) said...

I'm ashamed to say that I haven't read bloglines for weeks, and tonight I almost fell off of my chair reading about your dear Pete!

Ack! Ahhh! What? Gasp! Cringe. I can't imagine what you were feeling/thinking/hoping during that terrible time! I'm glad to hear that he'll make a good recovery, but oh-so-sad for your Mommy heart.

I knew something spectacularly horrific would occur while I was shirking my favorite daily read! I'll never stray again.

p.s. my voice is slowly starting to wain, and much earlier in life. Boo to the fading thyroid, Boo. But I'll gladly stand next to you and sing the Ding.

Kay Dennison said...

Cool!!!!! I never could sing. Still can't although I am great driving along the highway singing along with my fav oldies station.

Anonymous said...

I like your metaphor here. Since my husband died, and my son moved away, I've felt abandoned. I guess I need to find a new way to sing. Thanks for the inspiration. I don't have a blog, but I enjoy reading yours. Sincerely, Joan

diane said...

I'm learning to dance to a different drummer. It is hard. Life throws many a curve ball. My eyes flutter and I can't catch the ball. I guess it all just takes time...

I love how you make me stop and ponder. Thanks.


What a great post - with insights on on so many levels. Thanks.

Polly said...

i remember sitting on grama's lap in church,listening to her voice as she pointed to the notes. I'm sure it's how we both learned to sing, and read notes. What a priceless memory to have. I love the metaphor as well, if we can't do something we once loved or wanted to do, then move on and learn how to do something else. This is great advice.

Michelle said...

ooh, I love this and I love the idea of embracing change. I have lost my ability to run fast and while it pains me(and I can't help but compare myself to other women my age who are doing just fine, thank you) I know I need to move on.

Bless you.

Susy said...

I'm sure you sound like an angel to our Father in Heaven.

hannah said...

This is wonderful! I often think about things like this now that I have children. Being a mother changed who I am, and I'd be lying if i said I didn't miss certain pre-mom things. This post was a wonderful reminder to embrace the season of life you are in right now.