I Can Sing

By James W. Ahola, B.A.Sc.

As a young child I was invited to attend a summer music camp. Because I didn’t know anything about music, I was placed in the junior choir. I thought, « Great, everyone can sing. » Then the instructor blew a note on his pitch pipe and asked each of us to repeat it. For some kids, including me, he needed to do it several times. He then arranged us as a choir with specific seating assignments and gave us the words and music to learn for homework.

The next day I returned eager to sing. As the music started I belted out the notes. The instructor stopped us and asked certain choir members to echo the pitch pipe. In my case, he repeated it several times. I thought I sounded fine.

We began again and I opened my mouth, singing with my whole heart. « This is fun, » I thought to myself. It felt liberating to sing – as though my heart was soaring like a bird. But the experience was short-lived because he stopped us again and started singling out certain choir members. When he reached me he leaned in and whispered in my ear: “You can’t sing, you’re throwing other people off. Just mouth the words.” Then the piano started again and the choir chimed in.

Fighting back tears, his words echoed in my head: « You can’t sing »…you throw other people off ». I was crushed. I didn’t sing again all week. At the concert, I tried to mouth the words in unison with the others so I wouldn’t embarrass my parents but I dared not make a sound. I didn’t sing in the months and years to come, either – not the national anthem at school or Christmas carols with my family.

I continued with music, though, and learned to play brass instruments, including the cornet, flugelhorn and trumpet, ending up as the first chair trumpet in the high school jazz band.

After that I attended another music camp, which included a choir. Our instructor was renowned for having the province’s best school choir and claimed that everyone in his community could sing. My buddy and I, however, were convinced we were the exceptions.

On our first try the sound of the group was poor. While everyone could play the notes beautifully on their instruments many stumbled as choir members. The instructor stopped and gave us about 15 minutes of instruction, talking about resonance, its importance to all instruments, and its application to voice. He then showed us how to create resonance so we could feel and experience it for ourselves.

When, after a few minutes, he asked us to repeat the note, I couldn’t believe my ears. I could sing!  My friend and I looked at each other in disbelief. During the rest of that week, I never stopped singing. The part of me that had felt caged was free. Never again would I be silent.

Since then I have been asked to sing before various groups but for the most part I sing for myself, relishing the freedom and joy I find in this means of expression.

Perhaps you long for freedom in a chosen field but keep falling when you should be flying. It doesn’t mean that you were never meant to fly. All it means is you don’t yet know how. To everything – whether it’s sales, relationships, engineering or business – there is a structure. To discover that structure, learn the nuances and details and before you know it your heart will begin to take flight.