When I was a kid, I loved music. My mom taught me the basics of piano and then bought piano books so that I could plunk along on my own. It was fun, low key and I loved it- especially singing along.
My mom is a great pianist with a lovely alto voice and one of my favorite childhood memories is of her sitting at the piano playing and singing from one of her Broadway musical books. Our picks? Les MIs, Phantom, and the Secret Garden. We had the cast recordings on tape but being able to sing them with a live accompaniment was the best!
I definitely fancied myself a singer.
Never mind that my family frequently reminded me how bad at singing I was. Apparently an infamous rendition of Jingle Bells when I was a toddler remained the bar they set for my singing career. No amount of singing on key could undo my horrible early version of Jingle Bells.
Fortunately, I was a badass kid and their ridicule didn’t stop me from recording my own a cappella versions of my favorite Broadway songs including (ack!) Think On Me.
Fast forward a few years into- yes- middle school, and my brothers discovered an unlabeled tape. On it was enough to blackmail their sister for the next decade: me, belting out (badly) all those songs that defined happiness.
By that time, I had discovered sports, played first chair clarinet in the band and spent one semester in chorus. I was still a musician, just not using my voice as much. After all, I stunk at singing.
But that didn’t stop me from signing up for chorus in 9th grade. I attended a boarding school with a world class choral instructor (I didn’t know that at the time) whose highly auditioned Glee Club regularly sang gigs with college choirs.
My first day in chorus, our fearless leader Carol Hux Burnett asked someone to sight read a few bars. I raised my hand because a. this was an all-girls school b. I could sight read reasonably well after 2 years of clarinet and c. I still thought I couldn’t be THAT bad.
After I sang the bars, Ms. Burnett asked me to see her after class. (Yikes!?)
We went to her office and she said, “How would you like to be in the Glee Club? We don’t accept freshmen, but your voice is fantastic and you can read music.”
Her words completely shocked me. What about Jingle Bells?
I accepted and she threw at me a bunch of details: an upcoming music retreat to learn our songs for the fall, a dress (a really hideous dress) would need to be made to my measurements, and we’d need my mom’s permission and some cash for the dress, travel, etc.
So right there Ms. Burnett called my mom. I’ll never forget what happened next.
“Hello? Mrs. Fritsch? My name is Carol Hux Burnett and I’m the director of the Glee Club here at Salem Academy. I’m calling to offer your daughter Lauren a place in the auditioned group after hearing her sing in our beginner chorus class."
Through the phone came laughter.
My mom called to my little brother, Nathan, who must have been nearby, “Nathan- someone wants Lauren to be in their singing group! She’d be the youngest member!” Then howls of laughter.
To be fair, they could not believe what they were hearing.* It was the era of Candid Camera (the 90s version of Punk’d) and my mom seriously thought she was being punked.
Of course my mom agreed and the details were sorted and I joined the Glee Club.
I sang for three years with the Glee Club but always hesitated to audition for solos and never auditioned for the smaller a cappella group out of fear. In college at the University of Virginia where a cappella group members are rock stars, I contented myself with guest singing a few times with my friends’ male group and told myself I was too busy with athletics and a sorority to manage singing as my rationalization.
But really I was just scared that I was no good and that people would make fun of me.
I think we all have experienced creative woundings and we’ve all been afraid to make art - and to make it public- because we’re so afraid of the response we’ll get.
Creativity- even in private- is a deeply vulnerable act of bravery.
You know this because you feel stifled and in pain when you don’t create. You know this because something gnaws at you to express, to make, to conjure, to fulfill the request of the deep well inside you that demands physicality.
Unfortunately, seemingly insignificant events can cause us to shut down our creative urges even without our realizing it.
My mom so supported my creativity growing up- she made sure I had a space for it, materials to fuel it. She didn’t harass me (too much) about the mess I made with all my paint and glue and glitter and fabric scraps.
And I cannot blame my two songless decades on that phone call in Carol Hux Burnett’s office. I have to take ownership of the choices I made around my voice (my fifth chakra). But that ends now.
It ended really with some work I did with Jennifer Urezzio and Lorraine Ferrero. Jennifer is a spiritual mentor and leader and Lorraine a vocal coach. I thought we’d do a two day workshop that would give us a better understanding of our voice as an instrument with some spiritual stuff thrown in.
Hahahahaha. Jennifer and Lorraine put together such a transformative experience that centered around using your voice, owning its power and being seen that stripped me down to my core so that they could build me back up again.
Lots of singing, lots of tears and lots of hugs later, I felt like I was coming back into my own as a creative being (I was 4 months pregnant during the workshop) and as a powerful leader.
They created a safe space that was critic-free where we could put our stake in the ground for our creative, powerful selves.
That gift was priceless.
In the several years since that event, I’ve been more creatively prolific than any time since I was a free and uninhibitedly creative child.
And it feels amazing.
Gosh, I have so much more that I want to write on this topic, so I’m going to end this particular essay here.
The Cliffs notes:
- You are creative.
- Putting your work out there can be terrifying.
- Especially if someone well meaning has ever been your critic.
- Keep creating. It takes vulnerability and bravery every. damn. time.
- Do yourself a solid: find a place where you can practice that brave vulnerability with people who give you a warm welcome and a soft landing.
- This is not at all an indictment of my mom. She was absolutely tickled that I was starting to sing and the last time she had actually heard my voice I was off pitch and in the wrong key.