If I were any more emotional I’d be a 13-year-old girl. My hearts hangs at the furthest edge of my sleeve, flayed open for all the world to see and trample. I cry at sappy movies and even sappier songs and I have no problem exposing personal details of myself to complete strangers. This adds a unique realizm to my writing and helps me create sympathetic, human characters. Everything I experience is grist for the page mill. Simply put: I have no trouble expressing emotion.
Except in song.
Some of you know that this semester I am taking a musical theater workshop. Our first song was something of an audition for the professor to put us into proficiancy groups. I sang “Lullaby of Broadway” and, while I didn’t exactly bring the house to a standing ovation, I got a few chuckles and an overall “Good job” from the prof. Well we did our second songs this week and I’m beginning to wish I wouldn’t have exhibited so much potential. Our second song was assigned to us and since I was still reeling from the high of the first performance, I volunteered to be one of the first to go in round two. That gave me roughly a week to work out the song, “Once Upon a Time” from some obscure 60’s musical called “All-American” written by the same people who did “Bye Bye Birdie. I found a neat little recording of the song and piano accompinament and proceeded to learn the song.
Unlike the Broadway songs of today, drawn from the Andrew Lloyd Webber mold with pre-installed emotional sensations, this song is more subtle about its emotional. I’m about as subtle as Kenny G in a Harlem Blues club. I tried to find the emotion in the song, I tried to recall my immense stock of unrequited love stories, and I tried to recite the lyrics as a monologue. It turns out I’m not a very good actor either. But with my recording, I practiced the song until I knew it cold and I figured the inspiration of the moment would carry me through. I have pretty good instincts in other situations so I didn’t figure this would be any different. Cue the accompinament, which sounds nothing like the one I’ve been hearing all week.
This goes much faster and soon I’m holding noted too long and missing cues and generally dropping my figurative pants in front of the entire class. The prof stops me after the first verse and when he finally stops crying he tells me each and every place I went wrong. I try it again and again, and finally I start getting the rythm and notes right and we’re off. Then he stops me again and tells me I’m exhibiting the emotion of a Weeble Wobble (my words not his). He asks me what story I’m thinking of while I’m singing this and specifically what I mean when I say, “Said she loved me so.” And out of nowhere I get a rush of emotion and barely sqeak out “She was the last person to say she loved me” without crying. Everybody in the class is stunned, including the cute brunette in the front row I’ve been nursing a hardcore crush on. So the prof tells me to sing it that way and I try. I look the brunette in the eyes and sing to her. Her eyes follow me, I’m making some progress, and then I screw up the ryhthm again. The prof tears into me and the girl gives me a sad look.
I don’t remember much after that. The prof told me I better not have any musical mistakes in the song next time. I sat behind the brunette for the rest of class just waiting to catch fleeting glimpses of her smile and that’s about it. I have no idea why this is so hard for me. Have I exhausted my store of emotions through writing and bad love poetry? I thought briefly it might be blamed on my attention span. I can’t handle emotion and music at the same time. But then I remembered my brief and unnoteworthy stage career in high school and college. I can’t act even if without music. It’s not because I’m nervous. I love being in front of a crowd and have no trouble exhibiting emotions when I tell real stories. I’m at a loss, but I’ve got to figure it out. I sing this song again in a few weeks and I have to blow them away. I have to give that brunette a show that makes her swoon in her seat like she did for the British guy who sang “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of LaMancha.”