Memoirs of a Frustrated Singer-“Heels”

She put her bags down on the chair. You would think they would at least have a room to store your personal stuff and not just instrument bags. Whatever. She thought, shaking her head. She looked inside her bag at the heels she had brought and then at the black flats she was wearing on her feet. Technically she could pull off wearing the flats for the night. They did match with her outfit and no one was going to be looking at her feet when the music started playing.

Other band members started filtering in, setting up their instruments and music. The other singers slowly made their way to the microphones standing next to hers. “Ooo, girl I love that top,” Jesse said, putting his flute on the music stand and setting up his sheet music. “Where’s the rest of it though?”

“What do you mean?” she said, looking down at her shirt. It wasn’t a low cut shirt and the material wasn’t see-through.

“I mean, don’t you need to go change your shoes or something?” Jesse’s eyebrow went up as he looked down at her black flats, disapprovingly.

“No. I’m fine like this.”

“Yeah okay.” He walked over to greet Tammy, who was walking towards them in a short dress and high heels. He kissed her on the cheek.

“That’s a cute dress,” she smiled at Tammy. She looked down at Tammy’s ankle, wrapped in beige bandages. “What happened to your foot??”

“Oh, I was jogging with my friends earlier and I fell and sprained my ankle,” Tammy rolled her eyes, trying to wave away the question.

“Do you really think you should be wearing three-inch heels? The gig is 3 hours long.”

“Yeah, I know, but if I didn’t wear the heels, it wouldn’t really be that good of a performance.”

Tammy walked away leaving her confused. Heels add to a performance? What aspect? Was she talking about helping her posture? Because it doesn’t. Maybe the audience experience? More than half would be on their feet dancing, not even really paying attention to what the singers looked like.

“Latin singers just need to wear heels. It completes the performance. ” Jesse said, looking down at her shoes.

“You’re not wearing heels.”

“It’s different. I’m a male performer.”

This is ridiculous, she thought. “Yeah, I’m not changing my shoes just to make you or anyone else think that the performance is more ‘authentic’.” She wouldn’t kill her feet or back just for appearances. She was there to sing. The music would speak for itself.

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Memoirs of a Frustrated Singer – “Stick in the Mud”

She stared at the microphone directly in front of her mouth, letting her eyes focus on the overlapping wires that made up the mesh mouthpiece. Maybe if she thought about something else, something simpler, she wouldn’t think about how nervous she was.

Oscar, the director of the ensemble, had stopped the musicians and was going over the chart with the horn players. Good, she thought. I get a couple minutes to look over the words.

It wasn’t that she didn’t know the words or the melody, or even what section of the song came next. She had listened to the song more times than she could count; so much so that she could sing along with the horn and bass lines when they played. She had always been exceptionally good at picking up songs quickly. It wasn’t even a question of whether or not she knew the song.

Oscar lifted his hands and began counting off, interrupting her thoughts. The other singers around her started dancing automatically, but she didn’t. She came in with the first verse, focusing on the words, their pronunciation, how her breath control affected the sound of each word. . . She knew she was thinking about it way too much, but she only understood Spanish. It wasn’t her first language. She didn’t want to sound like an idiot.

Oscar waved his hands in the air to signal the band to stop playing. He rolled his eyes and slouched his shoulders, clearly annoyed. “Singers. You need to come in strong on the coros!”

One of the other singers, Jesse, spoke up, looking directly at her. “You know, we would know for sure where to come in if everyone was dancing. Everyone would be in sync together.”

The other singers nodded in agreement.

“Tiffany, you need to be moving, girl. This is salsa! You can’t just stand there like a stick in the mud!” Jesse exclaimed, making his shoulders shimmy and attempting to spin her around.

“You’re too stiff. You’d sound much better if you started moving,” one of the other singers giggled as she watched Jesse do an awkward dance move.

She looked at them all in disbelief. “I’m not moving right now because I’m focusing on the words and making sure I get this right. I’ll worry about dancing when we actually have a performance.”

“You’re gonna look stiff up there on stage. It’s not enjoyable to watch a stick sing Latin music,” Stan, the other male singer said off-handedly as he played on his phone.

The other singers started murmuring in agreement, calling her names under their breath, insinuating that she didn’t know how to dance or sing. I’ve never felt so incompetent, she thought to herself. Just because she didn’t practice or perform music the way that they did, didn’t mean she was any less of a vocalist. She had more singing experience then all of them combined. They should’ve been asking for her advice and opinions; not throwing theirs at her.

Oscar made the band stop playing again. He was making an announcement to everyone, but the singers were too busy laughing and talking to hear what he was saying. They weren’t even trying to be respectful in any way–no attempts at whispering or making eye contact with the director while he was talking. He was changing the end section of the song at the last minute, which would effect everyone in the band.

She shook her head. It was embarrassing how disrespectful the singers were acting. No concern for pitch, song form or harmony, not to mention their fellow musicians. She could only imagine what the actual performance would be like.

The band started to play again, and this time they started several measures before the end of the song. Just as she’d predicted, all of the singers didn’t come in when they were supposed to, which made her voice stick out more when she did.

Oscar stopped the band and looked directly at the singers. “Come on guys. We just went over this.”

“No you didn’t,” Jesse chimed in, accusingly.

Should she say something? Despite the voice in her head telling her not to, she spoke up. “Um, maybe if you weren’t so busy talking and playing on your phones, you would’ve heard him talk about the change to the end of the song.”

Jesse’s face turned from a smile to a frown. He knew she was right. “Well maybe you should go–” His voice trailed off.

She looked questioningly at Jesse, bracing herself for an insult.

“Whatever.” He turned and began talking under his breath to Stan and the other singers. They all started laughing.

She looked down at her watch. And then people wondered why she was so quiet. Just thirty more minutes, just thirty more minutes, she thought to herself.

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Memoirs of a Frustrated Singer – “Skylark Doesn’t Sound Right”

Late night rehearsals were not her favorite. Especially when just getting through a previous four-hour rehearsal with musicians that didn’t practice, didn’t care, and didn’t want to be there. She was tired, both physically and emotionally, and she definitely needed sleep. It was nights like this that made her question whether she truly could be a singer.

“Hey, let’s run ‘Skylark,’ guys,” she said, adjusting her microphone stand.

Sam was noodling around on the drums while William was playing a pattern on the congas.

She held up the chart. “Can we run through Skylark one time? It’s super late.”

Sam looked over at William’s hands and decided to join in. The piano player heard the pattern that William and Sam were playing and he started playing a montuno on the piano.

She shot Todd, the piano player, a dirty look.

He smiled and played the montuno faster.

I don’t have the patience for this, she thought, rolling her eyes. She sat down and put her chin in her hands.

“Alright guys. Let’s run ‘Skylark’ before Tiffany loses it,” William called to the other band members as he slapped one of the conga heads.

She looked down at the ground and sighed. William loved to jam for hours and hours and was easily distracted, whether they had to get stuff done or not. The level of sarcasm in his voice was more than she liked, but she was grateful William had taken charge and got the band back on track. Who knows how long she would’ve been sitting there.

She had never felt she fit the leadership role very well, being more comfortable with the idea of being a part of and working as a team. That’s why she hated when stage crews placed the microphone out front, far from the rest of the band, isolating her. She loved set-ups where everyone was close together, even if it was uncomfortable, because then she felt part of the group. She could interact with everyone easily and react if something happened unexpectedly.

Todd began to play the intro to the song, interrupting her thoughts. She came in with the first verse, but as she kept singing, she noticed something sounded off with he chords that Todd was playing. She tried to ignore it as she continued on to the second verse, but his chord voicings felt like nails on a chalkboard. She winced. She knew her music theory was poor and that if she said something, Todd would ask for specific keys and fingerings. Something that she honestly couldn’t do. She looked at William and Sam, who both gave her uncertain looks.

Sam put up his hand. “Stop. Let’s run it from the top again.”

Todd played the intro to “Skylark” and she came in with the first verse again, but the same issue was still happening. There was no room, melodically, for her to sing. Todd’s chord voicings sat right on top of her voice. “Something’s not right,” she called out to Todd.

“What do you mean?” Todd stopped playing.

“The chords you’re playing don’t sound right,” she said, making a face.

“Well, what chords? Show me specifically what chords I’m playing wrong. If you can’t point them out, then–”

“I don’t know what exactly you’re playing, Todd, I just know it’s the wrong chords,” she said, feeling herself blush. She knew he would put her on the spot if she spoke up. Just because she couldn’t name every chord Todd was playing without looking, didn’t mean she was wrong. She knew she had a really good ear. Now, though, she felt stupid for saying anything.

Sam got up from behind the drum set and walked over to stand beside Todd. “Let me see what chords you’re playing.”

Todd played the first couple of chords.

“You do know this is in the key of A minor, right?” Sam said, frustrated. He pushed Todd over on the bench so he could sit down and start playing.

“Where on this chart does it say what key it’s in?” Todd said, losing his patience.

“Right there!” Sam pointed to an area on the chart. He started playing the chords of the song. “Tiffany, start from the top. I’ll play along.”

She started singing the first verse while Sam accompanied her. “That feels way more comfortable.”

“Yeah, dude, your voicings were wrong. You’re crowding her too much when you play like that. She’s supposed to sit on top. Not fight to be heard.” Sam got up to go back to the drums.

Todd started running through the chords, playing the voicings that Sam had shown him.

She shook her head. She knew she shouldn’t let it get to her, but being a singer who was severely lacking in music theory was crippling. Musicians already had notions of singers being divas and complainers. Add lack of technical musical knowledge and it would become downright embarrassing whenever any type of issues arose. Moments like the one she just had with Todd would happen more often if she didn’t start studying theory more.

Sam counted off on the drums. She raised her eyes from the floor and started to sing.

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Memoirs of a Frustrated Singer-“Cattle Call”

This was probably the worst idea she had ever had. Initially, she thought it would be a good opportunity to get exposure. She knew she had a good voice, but maybe she just wasn’t cut out for this kind of thing.

She had been standing in a long line since seven o’clock that morning, her mom by her side and a piece of paper with a number printed on it on her chest. It was starting to get really hot, and feelings of self-doubt and anxiousness were starting to take over.

“This could be it. The big break you’ve been waiting for,” her mom whispered in her ear.

She looked around. People were dressed in outlandish outfits, playing guitars, and dancing around. “I don’t know, Mom, they’re saying that there’s over 5,000 people here,” she said, worried. Everyone wanted their fifteen minutes of fame. A lot of them had probably worked and sacrificed to get there. Why should she be the lucky one to get picked for a slot on the show?

Everyone was being filtered into a large stadium. Cameras were everywhere, but all she wanted to do was crawl in a ball and hide. What the heck was she doing here? This wasn’t her. Security guards were directing the crowds onto the field and making performers line up in rows of five.

She looked back at her mom. “You’re going to do great. I’m proud of you no matter what. I’ll be waiting right here,” her mom said, reassuringly.

She looked around as she walked up to her line. There were individual tents with three judges sitting at a table underneath each tent. Performers would walk up in groups of five, standing next to each other, and each would sing an excerpt of a song. Many of the performers that were being picked to move on to the next round had extravagant outfits or were physically attractive, but she didn’t hear anything substantial coming from their mouths. This isn’t real, she thought. This isn’t music.

She was next in line to sing. She watched the judge’s faces as the group of performers each sang. They were all clearly bored, looking, but not really listening. The performers finished and left. She walked up to face the judges along with four other singers.

She looked around. Each one of the girls standing there with her looked terrified. She felt nervous, but she couldn’t help but feel slightly annoyed. The judges were too busy jotting down notes on paper, so much so that they didn’t even notice when it came time for her to sing. Screw this, she thought. They’re going to pay attention to me. She picked the one part of the song she prepared where she knew she would belt the melody. She had a deep, powerful voice. She was damn good at belting. The other singers around her looked up when she let the sound escape from her lips. She let herself feel every note in that moment, forgetting what happened before and what might come after. She knew her voice carried, so her mom had to hear what everyone else was hearing. What the judges were trying to ignore.

One of the judges held up her hand, cutting her off halfway through the second line of the verse she was singing. “That’s enough. Thank you.” The woman adjusted her glasses, a fake smile thinly spread across her face. “Unfortunately, you aren’t what we’re looking for. Better luck next time.”

Her insides felt empty, as she walked out of the stadium. She was physically and emotionally exhausted. She felt as though she had taken everything inside and laid it on the table for those judges, completely exposing who she was. And for what?

“That girl was ridiculously good. I don’t know why they didn’t pick her to move onto the next round,” a girl said directly to her right that was pointing at her.

She smiled back at the girl, but when she saw her mom, the smile disappeared. She struggled to hold back tears as she mom hugged her, but she had never felt so insignificant. Her talent, her years of training and experience had meant absolutely nothing here. She felt as though everything she knew about music didn’t matter. She had wasted a day waiting to perform for people who didn’t care if she succeeded or if she had real talent. She would be less willing (if at all) in the future to put herself in a position where her talents weren’t truly appreciated and where her time was of little value.

“I could hear you all the way across the stadium,” her mom said as they walked to the car. “You sounded amazing. I’m proud of you.”

 

 

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Memoirs of a Frustrated Singer – “Karaoke”

“Oh my gosh, you sing? How fun!” Dina whined. She was a friend of Sam and Natalie, and that was the only reason why she didn’t roll her eyes.

Natalie noticed the look on her face, quickly adding, “You know what might be fun? Karaoke.” She grabbed Sam’s arm. “There’s this great karaoke bar with good happy hour specials fifteen minutes from here.”

She winced. She knew how much Natalie loved karaoke because of her love for Pop music and performing, but she would rather scrape her nails on a chalkboard than sing into a cheap sound system at a bar.

“Yeah! Singers love karaoke!” Dina said, enthusiastically.

“Um, that’s not necessarily tr–” she began, but the other three were so excited that they began to talk over her. Where was it written, or agreed upon, that vocalists loved to do karaoke? She shook her head to herself as they all got into Sam’s car.

“This place has the best song selection and there’s four-dollar beers–”

“Yay! I love karaoke!”

“Can we pick teams?”

“Tiffany’s on my team–”

She began to rub her head where she felt a headache coming on. She should’ve drove her own car.

They parked and walked into the bar. There was a pungent smell of liquor in the air and several people were yelling, clearly already intoxicated.

“Just think of it this way: this is the best place to get up and sing because everyone’s so drunk, that even when you mess up, everyone will still cheer you on,” Sam jokingly said in her ear.

“You do realize everything that is wrong with the statement you just made, right?” she asked, looking sideways at Sam.

Natalie and Dina were too busy chatting away to see how uneasy she felt. She knew Sam was trying to make her feel better, but it made her feel even worse knowing that no one would care if she hit the right notes in some random Pop song, much less even remember her face. She sat back in her chair, casually sipping a beer as different people got up and mumbled into the microphone.

This was going to be an interesting night.

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