It Goes All Around My Throat

Even though people on “the interwebz” know some of the most personal things about me, most folks don’t know very much else about me. In fact, there are a lot of things that I do NOT talk about on here that people might like to know. So, I’m going to try to post more often and post about the different things that people probably don’t know about me.

Let’s see…where to begin?

I don’t know that my family remembers my first words. I know I don’t remember ever liking to talk. Talking for me was always something that was extremely difficult. I’m extremely quiet. If you don’t believe me, I recommend checking my youtube videos. That voice you can barely hear is the voice that people in life have gotten extremely frustrated over. People have accused me, at times, of trying to be inaudible, but it generally isn’t something that I am trying to do. With the exception of whispering, I don’t generally try to go unheard–it just happens. Speaking is something that I don’t ever remember being good at. Singing, on the other hand, was always something that I felt more secure in.

My mom taught me the first song that I ever sang, “Tomorrow” from Annie. I would eventually learn every song from the musical, which I obsessively watched a video of as a child because of my love for the music and my fascination with one of the few redheads I ever really saw on television or in movies. (When you grow up in a group that only makes up 1-2% of the entire global population, you search for someone who looks like you that you can truly respect or admire.) I would move on from just singing along to Annie to learning all of the songs of Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Tracy Chapman, Janet Jackson, and Paula Abdul. I accidentally stumbled upon the “Like a Prayer” video on MTV, a channel which I wasn’t allowed to watch by myself until I was a teenager, and became fascinated by the song and the video. I remember watching that video before quickly flipping my television onto BET, which I was allowed to watch anytime and go to sleep to when I was small.

I absorbed music like sponges absorb water. It was something I needed to survive. It was something that was necessary for me to understand humanity. It was never a thing where I just randomly listened to music that was popular or had a good beat or anything. It was something where I needed to find music that was interesting or inspiring or just left me feeling like I needed more of it. I listened to lyrics and tried to understand them, even if I didn’t completely understand some of the lyrics until I was much older. Music was communication for me.

Even though it was communication, it wasn’t a very open form of communication for me. There were the occasional times when I would perform “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” for one of my preschool teachers, but usually the only people who heard me sing were my parents. I didn’t sing around most of my relatives. I didn’t usually sing at school in elementary school. Part of it was that I was extremely shy. The other part was my ever-present self-esteem issues crap. It didn’t help that when I sang for one of my friends in third grade that she told me that I had a “weak voice” and that I shouldn’t sing. It also didn’t help when I would volunteer to sing for assemblies and would get skipped in favor of some of my other friends. The answer was generally, “That’s okay, we already have [insert the name of one or two of my friends during that time] so you don’t have to.” It felt like a confirmation of that inner voice that said I was awful at everything. It made me feel like I was somehow “less than” other folks. Actually, it just reinforced that already-present feeling.

When I was in middle school and high school, I was in choir. It surprised everyone but me. My parents figured I would pick band, since I’d done well on the band’s music aptitude test. I wasn’t interested in band as much I was interested in singing. I needed to sing. I needed to learn to feel good about singing.

In sixth grade, the middle school choir had about 79 people total. Our director was on her first year at the school, and she just wasn’t going to have a choir that was so itty bitty. After the ensemble I was in got a Superior (a “1”) at State Competition and earned a medal, she used us a lot to recruit new members for the choir. We performed at the orientation for incoming sixth graders. We were also the group she used at a concert at a local health food store. When the 30 or so eighth graders moved on to high school, the choir didn’t lose any memebers. It didn’t stay at around the same number. It more than doubled. By eighth grade, around half of the school’s 650 students were in choir. (The other half were in band, with a few seventh and eighth graders participating in both.) Partly because of our excellence in recruiting, our teacher decided we needed to have special choir trip for the eighth grade (plus a few select seventh graders), so we ended up going to Chicago, instead of the normal trip to Atlanta. Actually, I ended up going on both trips that year. (My mom was the treasurer during the last 2 years, and had to do the trip planning, checking in of the choirs, and prep work, so I got to do all the activities.) So, choir in middle school was, for the most part, something I enjoyed.

If I hadn’t been so competitive and wanted to earn every single medal possible, it would have probably been a lot more fun. I always wanted a medal. I think earning medals was a way for me to prove to myself (and other people) that I was more than just the girl who you could depend on for the answers in class. I felt validated when I would get medals. I felt validated when I got into choirs like All-City choir. It felt like all those bad things that I had always heard from people or that I had thought about myself weren’t true. The only time that I ever really craved attention and real approval was when I was performing. I wanted to have something that people respected me for, because I always believed (and still do) that there was something fundamentally wrong or broken about me.

The competitiveness continued into high school, but it wasn’t as easy to get medals or go on trips or do the stuff that was so überfun because the directors in high school weren’t apt to take hundreds of kids to competitions or trips. The only trip I remember was a trip to Decatur, where we (oddly) stayed the night between Alabama Honor Choir rehearsals. (It was odd because Decatur is literally 40-50 minutes from my house. It was also odd because the trip was one I’d done in middle school and not had to stay the night.) The only competition I remember participating in during high school was District/State Solo/Ensemble Festival in tenth grade. It was memorable because I broke down after receiving news that I had gotten a 3 on my solo, while every other soloist from my school had gotten a 1. Even people (from other schools) who were utterly tone deaf were given at least a 2. I was given a 3 and one of the reasons listed was that I mispronounced 1 word (virgine) in the song “Ave Verum Corpus” and that mispronunciation was so horrible (a jih [like jib] instead of gee) that it knocked me down quite a bit. The two other people in the room with me, my voice teacher and my choir director, were floored by the other flaw he found in my performance: he said I was repeatedly off-key. According to them, I missed 1 note in the two songs I did. (The other song was “Art is Calling for Me” and he’d heard it the week before by a college student, who’d apparently done a magnificent job.) I was crying when I got the results, and was comforted by many of the choir students from my school, including one who I didn’t even think liked me. She said that she had been standing outside (they all had) and had heard me sing and that the judge was an idiot. This was something that people told me repeatedly that day, which (if I remember correctly) was the same day as my 16th birthday party. The next week other people, including ones who had never heard me sing, told me that the judge was an idiot. So, though I was utterly devastated by the result of that one competition, I did receive a little bit of a confidence boost from my friends. That made it easier on me when my tape failed to play Mariah Carey’s “Can’t Take That Away” in my eleventh grade English class and I ended up having to sing it a capella with no rehearsal. It is one of the only times I ever remember performing for an audience with my glasses on (I would always taken them off so that I didn’t get nervous) and being able to see the entire room. It was also one of the only times I ever felt completely safe performing.

When I quit high school and started going into my deeply depressive spells on a more frequent basis, I pretty much quit singing. I didn’t have the spark that singing needed in me anymore. So, I quit. And when I tried to sing along to a song on the radio a few years later, it felt like my voice had shrivled up on me. It felt like a voice that I had been using for years decided to quit working after I quit using it. I started giving myself voice lessons again and trying to strengthen my voice. It isn’t as strong as it once was, but it is a lot stronger than it was between 2004 and 2007. I now know that I don’t ever want to lose it, so I always try to remember to sing when I can. Just a little singing seems to keep it strong enough to stick around.

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Janet Morris

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama. I've got as many college credits as a doctorate candidate, and the GPA of some of them, too. I have a boss by the name of Amy Pond. She's a dachshund. My parents both grew up in Alabama.

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