I can’t count the number of times over the years I’ve told my daughters to stick with something they’ve joined because they’d learn from the experience. There have been times that they’ve moaned that they hated what they were doing. It was awful. They were terrible at it. People were watching them and ridiculing them. They just knew it.
The reason I won’t let them quit stems from what we jokingly refer to in our house as band camp. One summer several years ago, I went to Connecticut with my husband, Henry, to learn to sing because I couldn’t play guitar. He was going to guitar camp and wanted me to come along. What could I say? We had a babysitter for the week.
On my first day, I arrived to class several minutes late. I slipped into an available seat and caught up on the conversation. I gleaned the prompt was: “who I am, what I do, and why I came to singing camp. “
The first student told us that she was leaving the workshop a little early because she was singing the National Anthem at the minor league ballpark in her hometown. I started to sweat a little. I told myself it was just the minor leagues. Anyone could do that, right?
Next up was a quirky hip girl from Detroit. I pause here to say, she was from DETROIT and this camp was in Connecticut. She and her husband performed in Detroit jazz clubs. The beads of sweat were starting to form on my forehead.
Now, my favorite student. He was a bit older and a plastic surgeon from New Hampshire. I felt myself relax. Surely, he was here for the same reason as I. Why was I here again? And then the bomb dropped. He had gone to Columbia University as an undergraduate where he had been in a singing group. When they graduated, he decided to go to medical school. The singing group? They became Sha Na Na. I think I actually laughed out loud.
When my turn came, I went with the truth. “I’m here because my husband wanted to go to Guitar Camp this week and he wanted me to come, but I don’t play guitar.” Several people laughed. I think a few thought I might be kidding. I figured if I set the bar low enough, there was no way they’d be surprised by whatever I did.
It wasn’t long before we had to pick the song we would ultimately sing before the group on the last day. It dawned on me: I needed an obscure song. That way, if I were off key, perhaps they wouldn’t notice. After my epiphany, the choice was easy. It was a song by Kate Wolf called “Across the Great Divide. “ I had been singing it to my girls almost every night since my then six-year-old was born. Even if I did not think that I could do it well, I could literally do it in my sleep. I had the added inspiration that Henry could accompany me on guitar for the performance. That way, he would be there to witness my debut.
There were times during the classes that I considered quitting. Each time I thought of giving up, I was reminded that I would have to go home and tell my daughters that Mommy quit. That she wasn’t brave enough to stand in front of a group of people and sing. I thought that was not the best message to bring home with me, so I sweated through some really horrific lessons, knowing that I would be able to tell them that even at my most embarrassed, I didn’t give up.
The voice teacher turned out to be a wonderful man in his seventies who had failing vision and hearing that compensated for his loss of eyesight. He was insightful and encouraging and probably a great con man, because he made me feel like I was capable of performing at Carnegie Hall, if only I’d let go of my fears.
When I stood before the group that morning, with Henry by my side, my knees were shaking. I told the group that I had selected the song because I sang it my girls each night and it reminded me of how fast time goes by.
And that day, although I never thought I would sing in public, I did and I felt like a star. Nobody’s ears were shattered and no one was so horrified that they ran screaming from the room. In fact, when I finished they all applauded. It was exhilarating, in a nauseating kind of way. And much to my daughters’ chagrin, whenever they are thinking about quitting anything, I bring up the story of band camp, to remind them that there is really nothing they can’t do. Trust me. You haven’t heard me sing.
Nancy Klingeman is married to Henry and the mom of two teenage daughters. She is a writer, a lawyer, and an observer of life's daily pageantry.