Alain Beurrier, a friend and local musician who plays the accordion and sings from the group L’art a Tatouille heard me sing at a local fair and asked me if I would like to sing with him.
That was the start of another dream come true to sing with a band on stage. I wanted to see if singing could be another viable passion worth pursuing. Yes even at my age!
Last winter a mix of artists and poets performed in variety show style for a C.A.C. 34 event in the Salle des Douches in Capestang. There, with Alain’s friend Bertrand on guitar, we sang three songs. Despite my nerves, all the songs went very well and we were all pleased.
The evening seemed to drag on with political characters taking over the microphone and we left before my second set of three songs began. I didn’t mind leaving, because at that moment I knew something remarkable about myself; I can get up in front of a large audience and sing a few songs, not just one, or two but a few. Mission accomplished.
This summer, in our local restaurant Le Grille, Alain found bass guitarist Julien Capus, and lead guitarist Morgan Astruc, to perform a few songs with me. They play in many different bands: Morgan with Compagnie Guillaume Lopez, Camille en Bal, Morena la Griotte…and Julien with L’art à Tatouille, Morena la Griotte, Les Fifrelets…
They took me on a musical challenge, singing a set of eight English songs to help me fulfill my dream.
First I have to say how amazing these guys are. They can change key of a whole song in mid stream to accommodate my errors, or change a song before hand to suit my voice best after hearing me sing three words for the very first time. They are talented, professional musicians. So for them to take time out of their busy summer schedules to sing a few songs with me, completely made my day! Thank-you a million time over for giving me the chance to sing before moving to Hungary.
It was last summer when I asked my students to enter a children’s karaoke contest in Capestang during our local August festival. They were terrible. And I felt their pain, because of course I put them up to it. In all fairness, I had to project myself to the same level of humiliation, and I went up the stairs to the platform to sing.
I stepped on stage, and I couldn’t believe how being just five feet above everyone else added a huge amount of stress in front of all those people. All eyes were on me, waiting for me to get it together. At first I laughed, oh boy, I won’t be able to find my first note, I thought, then the profuse sweating began, and I wondered if I will be able to stand up with my knees going let alone remember all the words under this kind of pressure. Wow! It was unbelievable.
In school, it was different. I could get up in front of anybody and just sing. No fear. I knew the words and I had the confidence or ignorance not to be afraid. Somewhere along the road I must have changed. Perhaps being over forty and having a better understanding of people’s judgement, or maybe it was singing without the music sheets in front of me or accompaniment like in choir left me feeling insecure without anything to hide behind.
Even when I sing with a choir, I know they are behind me and it gives me reassurance. Backup singers give strength in numbers to hide mistakes and bum notes, and the score is in front of you most of time to help find your place when lost. If you mouth the words for a few bars because you cannot hear a darn thing, no one ever notices. This was different. I was alone, no group sing-along feel. I was isolated, solitary, and all mistakes are solely mine. There is no one else to blame.
I sang a capella, ‘What a Wonderful World’. It wasn’t anything like I thought it would be. After I hit that first note, it was exhilarating and reminded of me just how much I enjoyed singing songs in front of people. Not church songs in a choir, or random songs with top notes that I happen to be able to reach, but soul lovin, deep rooted memory songs that when you think about them they make you feel sad, or happy but you don’t really know why they impact you as they do.
Singing for me is an adventure just like being an expat, except the journey is internal, going deep into your emotions and exploring memories that are linked to those songs. It is an escape, like travelling is (more like time travelling), as moving is and as starting a new adventure is. And as everyone has probably guessed by now, I love change and challenges.
So here I go, delving deep into myself singing eight songs in front of a couple hundred people inside Le Grille restaurant on a slow Thursday evening, in front of their large wood burning pizza oven in the middle of August. Perhaps not ideal, but manageable.
Our friends came out to cheer me on, and sat on the square drinking beer as I made my way up to the stage.
The first song was, ‘My Least Favourite Life’, a difficult song that starts on a funny sharp note. During practice, well it was more a casual chat than a proper practice, we touched on a few issues, but it didn’t leave me feeling all that confident. Alain and the boys had 30 other songs to prepare for that night, and my eight measly numbers weren’t their priority.
We touched-on each song quickly from my short play list to get in key, but there was no complete run through. I was wanting more practice but they are the professionals after all, and I knew I was in fairly good hands.
What I learned, is that I am not quite comfortable with microphones. Not sure why, probably because I haven’t sung for so many years and most likely the techknowledgey has been updated. A good microphone can make a world of difference, and because I am not a professional singer, I haven’t the first foggy idea what those differences might mean. And when I use one, I can’t hear myself sing which drives me crazy. When I sing at home, of course I can hear myself, but on stage my voice is somehow funnelled through the mic and lost before it hits my ear. I can sometimes hear it over in a corner through a speaker, but not enough to get my bearings from. Which makes it far too easy to get off key, and without practice… well… the first song wasn’t very good. I also needed a music score stand to place my song book on, which I didn’t have and I had to hold on to it in one hand, and the mic in the other, clutching it like a life raft, and I looked somewhat awkward. I was very uncomfortable and sweating profusely. But I smiled my pearly whites and chalked it up to a learning experience. After all, in the grand scheme of things, this is but a moment in time. And if I can;t laugh at myself, then who can I laugh at!
Right before I went on, my friend Gordon said, don’t focus too much on your mistakes, just try to have fun. Best advice ever. Although I don’t normally beat myself up over little mistakes or even big ones. Instead, I blush a little (sometimes a deep shade of red that makes other people very uncomfortable), sometimes I forget to breath altogether, and other times I just shrug it off, but no matter it lasts less than a minute.
Flo wasn’t as helpful telling me wow, look at how many people are here tonight, a real full house. Flo is evil, but it made me laugh. Next time I will take him up on the shot of tequila! Probably equally good advice from the two seasoned musicians of Goulamas’k.
And the Hungarians came too, my little pose of endless love and support. I love you girls. Thanks for coming, and telling me how lovely it was, even though you really couldn’t heard me.
The next two songs went rather well; two old fifties tunes; Frank Sinatra- Fly Me To The Moon and Dean Martin’s – Sway. The microphone was turned down too low and no one could hear me, so the last song, True Detectives theme song – Far From Any Road, a duet with Alain himself singing in English, I decided to belt out my words like I knew what I was doing. That was the game changer. Those others were just practice, now I was ready to sing, with confidence and power.
However, most people went home feeling a little sorry for me. I wish they stayed because what happened next after the break was pretty cool. I decided right then and there, I was going to love this experience and do my very best with the time I was so generously given. I belted out the words to ‘Stand By Me’, ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow mixed with What A Wonderful World’ a difficult rendition Alain and I worked on last year, ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ and lastly ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles in a higher key we made up right before! It was so much fun. We laughed, we made mistakes but they could hear me and the applause was good- very satisfying. Not, finally she is done, but well done girl, didn’t see that coming! I felt that although there were mistakes (many mistakes), wrong notes and better performers on that stage before me, this was my experience to share and have. I did my best, and if I could do it again, I would do it in a heartbeat.
I now have another goal. To find me a band, one that I can practice more than an hour with before a concert. I want to find a microphone that likes me and me it, and start really seeing if I can do this thing. What’s the worst that can happen anyway? I realize that it’s too late, that my voice is not good enough. Well, it is still better than never trying at all! Here is to another goal, and one that I am very excited about. Imagine, my biggest regret is not staying in Capestang to sing more with my friend Alain! Life is truly awesome!