Sunday, August 16, 2009

Is a nose with deviation such a crime against the nation?

My junior year of college, I was in a pretty dark place. I was having roommate issues, the Chicago winter went on from November to April, and I was stuck in a green unitard in the fairy chorus of A Midsummer Night's Dream (but that's a story for another day, maybe). What I needed was some new showtunes, so I trudged through the snow to the public library and picked up a copy of Funny Girl. It's a show I've always sort of been familiar with--my dad sent me to summer camp with a tape containing "People," "I'm the Greatest Star" and "Don't Rain on My Parade," and I come from a long line of Barbra Streisand admirers. But there's something about that original cast recording that is so raw and spontaneous, and I was hooked. I would walk to school to the rhythm of "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" and "I Want to Be Seen With You," heedless of kicking snow in the air with the bounce in my step. But the song that forms the inspiration for this entry is "If a Girl Isn't Pretty." The young Fanny Brice is told that a girl who isn't pretty "like a Miss Atlantic City" will never amount to anything on the stage. Her mother doesn't see the problem--"Is a nose with deviation such a crime against the nation? / Should I throw her into jail or drown the cat?" And Fanny obviously makes a huge success of herself in vaudeville, trading on the very imperfections that were supposed to have held her back.

I had lunch with a friend on Friday, and as we sat in the sun and commiserated about our vocal woes--"I'm talking too much! My coloratura sucks! Where are my high notes?"--I realized that I wasn't the only one with technical issues, crises of confidence and vocational jitters. It seems like common sense, but having been through microlaryngoscopy and lots of speech therapy, it's easy for me to forget that even people whose cords are perpetually healthy have kinks to work out. And there are people (not said friend, who is extremely talented and whose coloratura is not as bad as she thinks!) for whom my technical difficulties would be blessings compared to what they have to deal with. Some benevolent god of music saw fit to bestow upon me stage presence, a gift for language study, a good ear and a quick memory. Surely perfect technique couldn't be too far behind?

Enter my grad school ambitions. Lately, every time I have an off day, a bad practice, an unproductive lesson, I become convinced that I won't be ready to apply to grad school in the fall. I don't have the high notes that my tone quality suggests, my coloratura is slow and sluggish, I have no stamina because of how comparatively little I've sung since the surgery. But on Friday, I found myself thinking, if not now, when? Voices are works in progress; even singers with international careers can find things about their own technique to improve. If I have to wait until I'm perfect to apply to grad school, I never will.

So my current plan is to embrace my imperfections, just like Fanny Brice. If Fanny Brice had waited for her figure to be perfect or to become a great dancer, she would never have become Fanny Brice who was so famous they wrote a musical about her. I may not have high notes, my coloratura may not be clean, I may still tend to muscle long notes--but that's okay. The wonderful thing about Fanny Brice (and Tigger, incidentally) is that she was the only one. Nobody was quite like her. I'm not perfect, but I'm the only one exactly like me, with my exact combination of talents and tribulations. And that's what I'm going to present to grad school auditioners and teachers in the fall. School isn't about becoming perfect--that's an impossible goal for anyone--it's about learning to make the most of your particular gifts and get out of your own way so that those gifts can shine through.

So although I may not be perfect, I know what I have to offer. And I'm the greatest star--take it or leave it.

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