Yes, it’s true, nowadays anybody – and I mean anybody – can be a rock star. Even me.
My dad has had many jobs over the years (like father, like daughter), but the one he held the longest and the one I remember from my childhood was as keyboardist and Hammond organ player for a top 40 cover band. He played in many different bands, but the last group was called The Pyramids and featured a very scary drummer who used to sing “Wooly Bully” at the top of his lungs and give me a crazy stare on the “Watch it now, watch it, watch it” part. (I was five and this was scary enough to send me running for cover in my parents’ bedroom, but then again, at that age I also found Disneyland quite terrifying.) Nowadays my dad still plays music but he does it all from the comfort of his living room using a synthesizer and a computer. (Incidentally, I was nearly named Cynthia, as a sound alike for synthesizer, but my mom wisely used her veto power.) My dad has actually been making music on the computer since the ’80s, using his first Atari computer. But my how things have progressed. Now some of the samples are so good that even professional musicians have a hard time telling the difference.
Through the years, I have always wanted to sing on my dad’s recordings, but I never really had the courage. I also wanted to learn how to use the computer to make music of my own, but I was always looking for a teacher and my dad was expecting questions. While I’m still trying to figure out programs like Pro Tools and Sonar for myself, the invention of a little thing called auto-tune has revolutionized what can be done with vocal tracks. Now if you can get somewhat close to the right note, this fancy little program can adjust your pitch and voila! Anybody can sing, and in tune too.
My dad recently connected with the scary drummer/vocalist from his last band, and they decided to do some recording together. One song my dad was making but wanted someone else to sing was “Love Letters” by Elvis Presley. This song has a three-part female vocal harmony and my dad asked if I could sing it. To be completely honest I probably still wouldn’t have the courage to do it if I didn’t take music theory and sight-singing in college. I rave about these classes any chance I get, my favorites from my college career, because they kicked my ass up and down those haloed halls. Never was a class more challenging, never more rewarding. And at the end of the year, after all that hard work, study and panic, I was still a terrible singer. But, the dirty little secret I found out was, so was everyone else. When I started playing the flute and seriously studying music, I became sort of retroactively embarrassed by what a terrible singer I was as a kid and how unmusical I really was. I felt really ashamed that even as a good flute player and a good musician, I still couldn’t really carry a tune. Music theory showed me that singing well is not an easy thing to do, even for accomplished musicians. Every person in my class was terrified, even the voice majors. (The difference was that, no matter what the voice majors sang, it sounded good. But if the notes were wrong, it didn’t matter how good it sounded. The instrumentalists never sounded great, but if the notes were right, that was all that mattered.) So though I still refuse to sing in public and I can’t understand the popularity of karaoke, I figured I could at least sing in front of my dad. He’s a musician too, he’ll understand. And he did, but not entirely. My mom is completely tone deaf and my dad has relative pitch (like perfect pitch, but not quite) and I’m in the middle. I had and have a lot of obstacles to overcome when it comes to hearing and controlling my own voice, many more than my dad. And, like the differences between how men and women learn, my dad will never quite get it. However he was a good sport and we were able to finish the recording.
I was a little disappointed when I didn’t come out sounding like Elvis’ back-up singers. Everything was in tune, but due to the (a-hem) high level of manipulation involved, parts of it sound a little mechanical, more like a background instrumental than vocal. Ah well, maybe I’ll do better next time. Actually, next, I’m replacing a synthesized flute solo with a real one, and I’m much more confident about my abilities there. However, the flute samples have in fact gotten really good, and I’m going to have to dust the cobwebs out of the old Yamaha if I am to get all John Henry on the computer’s ass.
To conclude, I’ll say that I am surprised at the back burner position music has taken in my life. I was so sure I was going to be a professional musician, up until the ripe old age of 17. Then I wasn’t going to be a professional but a professional amateur, and finally, with college over and no band to play in, the flute faded into the background. I’m still an avid listener, but even at that I’m surprised to be one of those people who listen mostly in the car. I always thought that was ridiculous, listening only in the car, because it’s not an ideal listening environment and there’s not that much time in the car… Except now I spend massive amounts of time in my car. Excessive, ridiculous amounts of time going from one place to another. So even though I’d rather be listening somewhere else, I think the sheer numbers would show favor for the car. I think all the time about taking a more active role in getting back into music – playing and studying – but I am amazed how quickly time passes. One day goes by – oh I’ll do that tomorrow – then a week, then a month, then a year. But I still drum my fingers as if I’m playing a scale and I still have the bumps on my fingers from the open keyholes. It’s just a matter of willpower and the realization that time spent wishing is time wasted.