July 17 – Workshop No. 1
I was on stage. The lights were very bright, and right away my body tensed up. I had prepared for this. I tried to take a deep breath but my throat tightened. I was shaking. I was so busy trying to conceal my nervousness that I didn’t notice that the music had begun. I opened my mouth and looked in front of me, and just as quickly, dropped my eyes. I started singing.
I desperately wanted to look up but knew no words would come out if I did. So I did the only thing I could: I sang to the floor. It felt safe as long as I pretended that I was not on stage with strangers’ eyes focused on me. I hid behind my hair, kept purposely long for that reason. I could hear my own voice echoing softly in the air and to my surprise, I liked the sound. This realization allowed me to get through to the end.
The applause and cheers made me feel good. Suddenly, the room felt cozy.
The first exercise that Art, the instructor, assigned me was to make eye contact with each person in the room. Easier said than done. I reminded myself that I had already sung the song once and no one had asked me to leave. I drew strength from the energy I picked up in the room.
It was a challenge made easier by the warmth and support of my classmates who, with their smiles and silent encouragement helped me get through the song again. It felt great! What I learned most from this exercise was that it was actually easier to perform in front of a crowd if I made eye contact because I got a response from the people in front of me; an acknowledgement that they were listening. Suddenly performing became an exchange between me, the performer and them, the audience. It wasn’t about me on stage doing everything alone.
The last exercise was called Copycat. Not only did I have to make eye contact with my classmates, I had to mirror whatever movement they made. This was tricky at first because singing suddenly entailed focusing on the audience and not the song. I found myself doing everything from running my fingers through my hair to sticking out my tongue in the middle of the song. By the end, I realized I was so busy following the audience’s movement that I forgot to be nervous on stage. It was amazing. And this was only my first class.
July 24 – Workshop No. 2
I had spent the whole week preparing for workshop #2. I was energized and riding on a natural high. But suddenly, as the class started, I was overtaken by panic. My stomach felt knotted, and my throat was slightly sore. I tried to think of my song but could not for the life of me recall the words! I was so preoccupied that I barely noticed the other performers on stage before me. My only comfort was that someone new had started. Her name was Carrie. I suddenly didn’t feel so alone.
As others performed on stage, I discreetly took out the words to my song and ran it through my head. I was now terrified of getting on stage for fear of forgetting the lyrics.
While on stage I tried to relax— perhaps a little too hard — it didn’t work. I got through the song only because I focused on making eye contact with everyone in the room. I felt rigid though, not at all relaxed.
Art had me do the Copycat exercise again. This time though my classmates had to make sultry movements for me to mirror. I loved this exercise because it helped lower my inhibitions. Easily, I was able to relax and get into both the movements and the song. Trying to recall the words was no longer on my mind; they flowed from within. By the third time I sang the song, I was thoroughly enjoying myself.
July 31 – Workshop No. 3
A thousand reasons not to attend tonight’s workshop flooded my mind. I had had a busy day and was feeling lousy after a recent visit with my family.
One of the reasons I signed up with Showoffs Studio was because I could not sing in front of my family, which is something that the rest of them enjoyed doing. For their 30th anniversary, my brothers and I bought my parents a laser karaoke machine. I thought I’d take this opportunity to sing, if not well, at least with more confidence in front of them. Even though it was the same song I had been singing for two weeks at Showoffs, the words got caught in my throat. I choked and barely got through the song. I felt crushed.
I staggered to class, remembering Art’s comment, “the show must go on.”
For the first time, I sat in the audience not worried about my turn on stage. I got lost in the songs that my classmates were singing. An amazing mood transformation resulted.
It helped me immensely that I liked the people in my class and that seeing them do well was important to me. One woman announced that she was there to prepare a song she wanted to sing at her wedding. As I watched her work through her piece, I felt newly inspired and I silently applauded her efforts as she moved through the song.
Seeing how much fun people were having on stage also helped. One woman, Patricia, sang ‘Your Cheating Heart’ with such conviction that I couldn’t help but feel good inside. She was really enjoying herself. She reminded me that I was supposed to be having fun here too.
I volunteered to go next and was so charged by then, I sang through my song and felt fairly comfortable.
The first exercise Art gave me was to make arm and hand movements with my right hand as I sang the song. This followed as a result of me telling him that I didn’t know what to do with my free hand (the other was to hold the mike). It proved to be slightly difficult. But the real challenge came with the last exercise. Art pulled up a chair on stage and told me he was a little kid. It was my job to entertain him. This was particularly tricky as he made it difficult to maintain eye contact by looking away constantly. But in my efforts to amuse and entertain him, I had forgotten about my nervousness.
By the end of the class, I felt re-charged and eager to keep singing.
August 7 – Workshop No. 4
By the time Workshop 4 rolled around, the energy I had found in my last class had subsided. I had been singing the same song now for three weeks and wondered if I was boring my class.
I chose ‘Glory of Love’ because it was short and sweet. I felt fine going into class until I noticed two new faces. Suddenly, I felt nervous. I couldn’t quite figure out why; there had been new faces with each class. But this time around, I was also singing a new song. I had trouble concentrating on everyone else’s performance. I slipped into the bathroom and took a couple of deep breaths. I whispered the new song through once.
Later, I got through the song but felt tense. I missed my cues several times and was not happy with the strength of my voice.
One of the exercises assigned to me tonight was Gotcha. Here, as you sang your song, you had to provoke the audience in some way to make them laugh or smile. As soon as you did, you tagged them by touching them. Considering that I don’t like people even looking at me, this was hard to do. I never considered myself a performer, and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be up in front of strangers trying to make them crack a smile!
I tried to concentrate on the task at hand. Without forcing myself, I made subtle gestures that might provoke a reaction. It wasn’t easy. Not only could you tag the person you made eye contact with, you could tag anyone else who reacted to you. This meant trying to keep an eye on your entire audience! By the end of my short song, I was breathless! But I felt good.
The last exercise was fun. I had to sing the song with an attitude. I was to be arrogant and obnoxious. Because I was having trouble feeling confident on stage, this was challenging. It helped when Art turned off the lights and turned them on again as the music started. It got me in the mood. I tried to be calm and appear in control. There was so much to think about: the words, appearing calm, appearing arrogant. But as the song progressed, all the anxiety floated away. I felt myself easing up. It was not the best time I had performed the song, but I felt good afterwards..
For the first time since I began the workshops, I didn’t feel intoxicated and invincible after class. All three nights prior to today’s class had left me so worked up, I had trouble sleeping – I sang in bed until I fell asleep exhausted.
But tonight I was overcome with a sense of quiet calmness. A sense of accomplishment. I felt the same way as I did when I got to the end of a great book or movie. A feeling of satisfaction. Contentment.
August 14 – Workshop No. 5
“Queen For A Day”
I was Queen in tonight’s class. This entitled me to order anyone to do anything for me (get me coffee, pick who goes up on stage next, etc.) The only problem was, I had a lot of trouble telling people what to do!
Tonight was Carrie’s last day. I couldn’t believe her four weeks had already gone! There were some new faces. This was what made Art’s workshops so interesting and exciting: you were always performing in front of new faces. At the same time, seeing some familiar faces each week added stability and warmth.
By now, I was finding it easier to say hello when we introduced ourselves, and strike up conversations with other members. It felt a little like I was at a support group, only there weren’t any tears or stories of endless heartbreak. This was emotionally uplifting and spiritually exhilarating.
Many thoughts and emotions were provoked by the songs and the performers. I especially enjoyed seeing individuals progress with each class. When anyone new got on the stage and “sang to the floor” just as I had done my first class, I felt a special connection with him or her. This also helped me monitor my own progress. For the past five weeks, I had been climbing a mountain. I was half way there, and this excited me and filled me with immense personal satisfaction.
August 28 – Workshop No. 6
My sixth class. I felt like a veteran. The class itself went well. When I had to, I was able to focus on the song and enjoy myself. I felt relaxed. I was now much more at ease throughout the three hours, and it was no longer necessary for me to have something in my hand to play with. In the past, I twirled candy wrappers to settle my nerves or gently tapped on my coffee cup. Tonight I was able to sit still and enjoy the performances of my classmates. I felt calm, relaxed.
These weekly meetings had become an excellent way to rejuvenate my soul and did wonders for my spiritual health.
September 4 – Workshop No. 7
Tonight I touched a dog. Three times!
September 11 – Workshop No. 8
Last week I touched a dog.
When my family moved to Canada back in the mid-seventies, we settled into a government-subsidized building. I was seven. Every night I fell asleep with the sound of mice scratching in between the walls. No matter how hard my mother tried to keep the apartment clean, cockroaches ran rampant. One morning I woke up to find five dead baby mice resting in my hair; I had strangled them in my sleep. I was horrified. I grew afraid of the dogs that ran around the neighbourhood, hearing only horror stories of the diseases they carried. A dog once chased me into my apartment, and my annoyed mother had to use a broom to shoo it back out. I had nightmares for a long time of being chased by dogs, by cats, by mice. I dreamt of being cornered in by thousands of cockroaches. I slept with the light on.
There’s a difference between not liking dogs and being genuinely afraid of them. I am terrified of them. This has proven to be somewhat of an inconvenience at times. I feel badly when my friends have to “hide” their pets, trapping them into the laundry room or bedroom whenever I visit. But I have long been resigned to the fact that this was how things were to be.
To my surprise and horror, a dog came to class last week. It belonged to a student named Diane. She sat next to me and insisted on playing with her dog as other students performed.
Everyone else watched happily as Diane amused her dog. I sat incredulous to the fact that Art wasn’t bothered by the sudden disruption – after all, the dog was causing quite a distraction as students performed.
I was ready to leave class, my nerves badly shaken and my heart throbbing. But I was faced with the dilemma that I would miss my turn this week.
I volunteered to go next. On stage, I was angry and upset enough to let everyone know how I felt. Art, who had known about my fear of dogs from previous conversations, asked me if I wanted to overcome my fear. I said yes and meant it. He seized this opportunity, and tried something new.
With Diane holding her dog, he wanted me to sing to it – just the dog! I was singing ‘Glory of Love’ – saying things like, “As long as there’s the two of us, we’ve got the world and all its charms!” It was hard not to relax and even smile at this point – the whole situation was SO absurd!
By the song’s end, I felt loosened up. Art had me sing the song again, but this time as I sang, he wanted me to try and touch the dog once, at any point in the song.
When the initial shock wore off, I was able to collect myself enough to attempt it. Why not try? I had already serenaded it once. The music began.
I told myself that I would not force myself to touch the dog. I began singing. And in spite of myself, the words and the soft and gentle look on the dog’s face made me laugh. There I was singing the words: “and when the world is through with us, we’ve got each other’s arms!” How could I not find the whole situation completely amusing?! Much to my amazement, I wanted to touch the dog resting so comfortably and peacefully on Diane’s lap – and I did! Not once but three times!
I was elated! That night, feeling newly empowered, I began wondering what else I could tackle in life that I had long feared.
September 18 – Workshop No. 9
I went to class filled with an odd sense of melancholy. Later, during our usual introductions, I told everyone I had already begun to feel sad about my classes coming to an end. It was true! I was overcome with the sad realization that I would no longer have classes on Thursday nights.
I had spent the week preparing a new song, Eric Clapton’s ‘Change the World’. It was a lovely song, and I took pleasure in learning the words and exploring the music. With too many things I have always said, I don’t have the time or I’m too tired to get around to it. With my singing, I made the time to practise and learn my songs. Every night, I scheduled at least thirty minutes whereby I listened to a particular song, learned the words, and then practised it. It wasn’t always easy; sometimes I was forced to practise at midnight or later, if I had a late night. Sometimes I was genuinely not in the mood to sing. Those times, I just listened to the song, breaking it up and focusing on different instruments (in the end, I always sang at least a couple times). And although I might have begun the exercise not wanting to do it, I was ALWAYS glad I had done so in the end. I felt a sense of accomplishment and felt the therapeutic benefits that music offered.
When I first began the workshop, I couldn’t perform a song with any physical movement or expression – even alone in my bedroom where no one could see or say anything. I felt inhibited even without an audience. Nowadays, I didn’t care. Singing was like dancing; a form of personal expression, and I couldn’t look like a fool if I was enjoying myself and singing in a style that felt right for me. With my hairbrush in my left hand (Art insists we use our left hand), I sang and let my body move naturally. I didn’t feel foolish or ridiculous. In the end, I always felt exhilarated and content.
On the subway rides to work, I hummed softly and envisioned myself singing. I even had the occasional dream where I was up on stage performing. I once dreamt I was singing in front of hundreds of my co-workers.
What threw me about tonight’s class was the number of people present in the room. There was an usually large gathering with new faces there to check out the workshop or there to see their friends perform. It made me suddenly very nervous. When it was my turn to introduce myself, I told everyone exactly how I felt: nervous – and sad that it was my second last class. Sharing this made me feel a lot better and put me more at ease.
By the time it was my turn to get on stage, I felt charged and excited. I was nervous but felt an inner assurance that everything would be okay. On my first day of these workshops, I survived my first performance by pretending I was elsewhere. By now, I felt right where I was – singing in front of people, strangers and acquaintances. But it went further, as I sang I almost felt as though there was an intimate exchange of sorts with the people I sang for, a subtle exchange of smiles, the tacit acknowledgement that we were enjoying and sharing something together. This made all the difference in my performance. It felt magical and at the same time real.
September 25 – Last class
It is difficult for me to write about this class. It’s as if by writing about it, I will be acknowledging the end of my singing days and my past ten weeks of fun and learning would come to an abrupt stop.
October 20 – Reflection
I am writing this entry almost a month after the last class. Part of the delay was due to going away on vacation. Away from home, work, and the regular stresses of everyday life, I was able to reflect clearly on what the singing workshop had done for me.
When you begin the workshop Art usually asks, “What specific goals and objectives are you working towards?” Mine changed with the passing of each class: I wanted to be able to sing in front of people, specifically my family and friends. I wanted to feel comfortable on stage. I wanted to meet new people. I wanted to find something positive to engage my time as I waited for news on some health concerns I was dealing with.
The workshops, in the end, were an excellent way to restore and heal an emotional, physiological, and spiritual part of me. They were a source of relaxation and excitement.
I also gained a greater appreciation for music. Considering how fast paced and stress-filled some of my days can be, taking the time to quietly contemplate how the different instruments interplay with each other in a song was a great way to relax and enjoy the music as I practiced singing.
Meeting once a week (Thursday nights) was a welcome break. There would be times when I just didn’t want to go: I was too tired, I had had a bad day at work, I wasn’t feeling well…. But I, quite literally, made myself go to every class and began to discover that my mood was positively transformed by attending.
The workshops served a number of roles. They were a means of escape. They allowed me the opportunity to get up on stage and be a performer. I got to meet new and interesting people. I had the opportunity to talk in front of people. The studio was a place where I could go to be entertained (and often amused). It was a safe place for me to express myself, emotionally, and physically, and also a place to be artistically engaged.
Art’s students have different reasons for signing up and get different things out of it. One woman’s reason was to prepare a song she could sing at her wedding. Another woman announced during her introductions that she had begun contemplating career changes as a result of the confidence she was gaining by attending the workshops. Art knew that I wanted to write. This was what I was most passionate about – hence, he gave me this writing exercise: Write about my singing classes.