When you move, you question every little piece of stuff: "Why do I have this? When is the last time I used it? Do I really need it?" I went through this process when I moved to Denver in June 2006 and came across the simple Yamaha guitar that my father had bought for me at Costco several years prior.
Unloading it from the U-Haul, I realized I had no idea how to play it. Within eight days, I was dumped on my ass by the man I'd moved there for and suddenly, had A LOT of free time on my hands. Thanks to Swallow Hill and many a night of fumbly practice, I can now pull off a song or two. "I just want to play well enough to impress drunk people" I always said. Well, I've tested it out on the Mississippi clan at Xmas and my goal has been attained. (Evidently, I'm even more impressive if there is a campfire involved.)
But I never learned to sing. I've been whispering and warbling my way through but never had any training; I decided it was time to learn a new instrument. So. I signed myself up for a "Singing While Strumming" class at SH and every Monday night, 11 of us file into a former chapel hall and face our fears.
Now in the third week, the teacher, JT Nolan, has grown tired of us chickening out. Pointing a scary fingernail at us (he's grown one hand all long, like a vampire, for guitar picking reasons), "Tonight, you are ALL getting up here to sing so GET READY!" We let out a collective groan and quivered in our folding chairs.
Now, when it comes to comedy, getting up onstage feels pretty natural; the idea of a singing performance, however, makes my stomach go queasy and my throat clench up. The great news is, I'm not alone. I watched each student get up there, apologize for themselves, be nervous, fuck up, charge through and express relief that it was over. The fact that we were all equally nervous and terrified helped a lot - like we were all battling the same horrible ego demon as a team. As one guy said, "It's funny. I know this song really well ... just not in front of 10 people."
When it came my turn, I got up to play a very simple version of an old song that I have been playing in my living room for over a year - a three-chord version of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken." I can sing that sucker in my sleep. I stood up and a girl in the front said encouragingly, "I like your shirt." I had worn my favorite t-shirt featuring several female superheroes. "Yeah, I wore it to give me courage but ..."
I started to play and realize that I had no memory of the chords or the melody. My mind went completely blank. Several false starts until everyone picked up their guitars and tried to remember the chords for me. Highly humiliating. I always thought that drawing-a-blank-from-stage-fright thing was an exaggeration but now I know - it's quite real.
Finally, I quieted everyone down with some insistence, "I know it! I can do this! I just need to close my eyes and pretend none of ya'll are here. Nothing personal." So, that's what I did and managed to get a few verses into it before desperately wanting to get offstage. My chair mates gave me lots of "You did great!" back pats despite my colossal mistakes. Talk about a safe environment - it's like a support group. The teacher kindly said I had a "sweet voice" but that I had made a formidable selection. "You've chosen a spiritual and we are in an old church. You need to dig deep and fill this room."
It was scary as hell and totally exhilarating. I can't wait to do it again.