When I was in my early 20s, I auditioned to attend The American Academy of Dramatic Art’s summer program in New York City. Graduates of the Academy include actors Robert Redford, Grace Kelley, Paul Rudd, Kim Cattrall and countless others.
About two weeks after I auditioned, the letter arrived in the mail. I was accepted! The summer program coursework included sessions in Acting, Voice and Speech, Vocal Production, and Movement. I wasn’t aspiring to become an actress. Rather, I figured the training would be useful for someone starting out in broadcasting. Each class would have a final at the end of the term. The only final I truly dreaded was in vocal production where I would have to sing by myself.
I’ll sing along with the radio. I’ll sing with my friends at the club. I’ll sing at church. But singing solo in front of my classmates: that’s not what I signed up for that summer. I can carry a tune but I am certainly not the entertainer that my father is.
Our vocal coach, who I’ll call Ms. Mason as I have willfully blocked her real name from my memory, wanted us to learn how to sing properly. Ms. Mason encouraged us to work on our breathing and stretch ourselves to expand our vocal capabilities. Her theory was that anyone can sing. They just had to learn the right technique. I have some vocal range but I’m more comfortable as an alto which is in the low range. I really have to concentrate to go an octave or two higher. For the final exam, Ms. Mason selected a song that the entire class would sing that could be adjusted to match a singer’s strength. It was up to each student to decide how to sing it.
The day finally came to sing. All 18 of us stood in a circle and sang when our turn came up. When Sandy sang before me, I was still having an internal debate about which notes I was comfortable singing. I decided not to take any chances and sang as an alto. I remembered all the words, my voice sounded smooth, and my breathing was flawless.
I felt good about the performance. Then I got my report card in the mail. I opened the envelope and was surprised when I saw Ms. Mason gave me a B. She wrote that my final performance was fine but she knew I could sing in the higher range if I had taken the challenge. She was disappointed that I chose to go the easy route. She lowered my grade because I played it safe.
Over the years, that experience has stayed with me as I pursued a career in television news and, later, as a communications professional. There have been many times when I could have coasted along and still done well. I could have made decisions that would have been easier to swallow and kept me in my comfort zone. But I often think back to that day and what I could have gained if I had gone for it and sang soprano.
In 2015, your SJMA Board of Directors is working tirelessly to bring you fun, enriching, and community-minded activities to help bring our network of managers closer. This year, make a point to attend more events, encourage others to join SJMA, or simply share your ideas on our “After Five” message board. This year, take a chance with SJMA and sing the high note! Just don’t ask me to sing.