This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
“You would love my teacher!”
My depression was beginning to lift and I was finding my voice again. Vocal performance had been my passion and my source of income for years. But while I was building my music career, my husband was cheating on me with the woman who is now his wife. This heartbreak devastated me so badly that I stopped singing for 5 years. I lost my home, my social network, and my savings were dwindling quickly. I knew I would never recover if I stayed in Baltimore, so I sold all of my belongings, gathered the remainder of my savings, and booked a flight to Los Angeles. The palm trees and carefree dreamers soon caused me to forget my past and lean into my new possibilities.
Joelle was a bit of an up and coming celebrity in LA. Her soprano voice could bring a grown man to tears. I’d seen Joelle perform for a benefit dinner and asked if she would be my vocal coach. She agreed. We had a few sessions, but her career was taking off, so she no longer had time to continue our lessons.
I had always been a good enough singer. I sang in gospel choirs, school choruses, and I even had my own band. We’d travel the country performing Prince covers and originals written by our drummer. Her aesthetic involved highly descriptive lesbian kink, so we stayed pretty popular with the ladies.
The indie music scene was fun while I was in my 20s finishing school, but the ups and downs were too extreme. I couldn’t build a sustainable career. The other girls in the band kept missing rehearsals, showing up high to gigs, harassing audience members, and irritating the venue owners and staff. When our lead guitarist, Hannah, decided to get buck naked on stage at a gig and make out with the saxophone player during our version of When Doves Cry, I began to question what I was doing with my life.
I wanted more. I wanted to become an elite singer and travel the world performing with professional musicians who I could rely on to stay clothed during our sets. My ultimate dream was to sing as part of the house band on The Late Show. I knew that screaming salacious lyrics over hot microphones in stuffy clubs attended by sloppy addicts was not going to get me where I wanted to be. I needed direction. Coaching. A professional on my team.
Joelle was the kind of artist who knew that there was plenty success to go around. She knew that I had what it took to succeed in the industry and even though she couldn’t help me at the time, she wanted to set me up with the best coach my little bit of money could buy. She recommended Lucas McPherson: a celebrity coach I’d read about in People Magazine.
“I can’t afford this guy. He’s nationally renown!”
“Oh, girl…it will be fine. I’ll put in a good word for you and I’m sure he’ll cut you a break.”
He did. I spoke with Lucas on the phone and despite his reputation and my obscurity, he offered me a great rate and I was over the moon! Apparently, it pays to have the right connections. So we scheduled our first meeting for the following Tuesday.
Lucas spotted me as I walked onto the stage of the university concert hall. He abruptly discontinued his even jazzier rendition of Angela by Bob James, which he played on the baby grand piano positioned down stage right. The lofted lighting illuminated his warm smile. He appeared otherworldly.
“Tracy! Welcome. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you.”
“Oh! Well, thank you! Hi. Nice to meet you as well.”
“So, tell me about yourself.”
Caught off guard by the question, I replied, “Well, uhm, my name is Tracy Steward. I moved here recently from Baltimore and I’m looking to expand my horizons.”
“That’s fantastic! Please continue.”
“Ok. Uhm, I met Joelle at a benefit where she performed…”
He cut me off, “I know Joelle. I’m not interested in hearing about her. I want to know more about you.”
“I mean, what do you want to know?”
Lucas seemed eager to listen to me. I was not usually one to share details of my life with strangers, especially details steeped in chaos, but Lucas seemed genuinely interested. This was my first voice lesson from a nationally known teacher in LA, so I challenged myself to open up to him. Singing requires vulnerability and this was my chance to prove to myself that I can be vulnerable. So I opened up. I told Lucas that I was recently divorced from my husband and my band. I explained to him how these circumstances really pushed me to want to make a change.
“Tell me more: what is your personal history with your mother?” I looked at him with bewilderment.
“What does my mother have to do with any of this?”
“Singing is as much a technical skill as it is a process of the soul and psyche. I’m trying to get to know your soul in order to better understand how I can help you identify your limiting beliefs and break through. I want to help you discover what’s keeping you from singing at the most elite level.”
My intrigue skyrocketed. Did Lucas know the special recipe for overcoming mediocrity? Could he teach me that recipe?
Whatever he had, I wanted. I was afraid at first, but I remained open and shared with this man some of my most intimate and painful memories.
“Don’t worry,” Lucas seemed to have been reading my mind. “This is a safe space.”
Immediately, I let out a muffled shriek. The tears streamed from my eyes, carrying with them all of my anger, sadness, and frustration. I didn’t realize that I had been waiting my entire life to hear those words in the context of singing.
“This is a safe space.”
Lucas and I met regularly, at least 3 times a week. Sometimes at the concert hall. Mostly at his house. Each meeting, I discovered that I was singing less and sharing more of my life story. I told him about my ex husband, my mother, my family. I told him about my miscarriage and the illegal abortion I’d had at 15 because the father’s parents threatened to kill me if I had their son’s child.
Lucas was attentive to everything I said. He was the perfect listener. The perfect counselor. I had never felt so safe. I had never felt so special to another person.
Week after week, I would go to what was supposed to be my vocal lesson, but felt more like an intimate therapist session. I told him so much about me and began to wonder when we would start doing more singing.
“Don’t worry,” he assured again. “This is part of the process.” So I trusted him. I gave into him completely and it was as though my entire self, all of my worries and concerns, my entire past, and everything that had ever burdened me about life was lifted from my soul.
Three months into our lessons, not having sung a note in any of them, I decided to join some new friends for a backyard karaoke party in West Hollywood. My favorite karaoke song was Sweet Thing by Rufus, featuring Chaka Khan. DJ Black Larynx queued it up, I grabbed the microphone and that beautiful intro began to play.
“I will love you anyway…” I started. My mouth was moving, but there was no sound coming out of me. The instrumental continued to play as confused glares heated the stage. My body began to sweat. After the first chorus, DJ Black Larynx slowly faded the song out. Some guy yelled from the liquor table, “Whoo!” Nonplussed but collected, Larynx smoothly proceeded to queue the next song on his list.
Red hot with embarrassment, I rushed away from the karaoke party and into my car. Perhaps I was just nervous. The song I Wish by Stevie Wonder came on the radio. I always sang with this one, so surely my nerves would calm and I'd have my voice back. “Looking back on when I…” Stevie began without me. I continued to try to sing the lyrics and melody to no avail.
As soon as I got home, I called Lucas to tell him what had happened. He seemed aloof and disconnected for the first time in our relationship.
“You’re talking just fine. I don’t understand what your problem is.”
“I’m telling you the problem. This has never happened before. Yes. I can speak just fine. But I can’t sing. Whenever I try to sing, nothing happens.
“Maybe you need to do some warmup exercises.”
“You don’t understand, Lucas! I cannot do warmup exercises. Nothing comes out when I try to sing!”
Lucas grunted. “I don’t know what to tell you, then.” Before I could respond, he’d hung up the phone. It was so abrupt that I figured the call had dropped. So I called him back. There was no answer. Three more times, I retried the call and three more times, no answer.
The next morning, I drove towards Lucas’s house. Having driven to this location at least 20 times over the past 3 months, I knew the neighborhood pretty well, or at least I thought I did. The coffee shop was there. The movie theater. But there was a pizzeria where his house should have been. My bewilderment morphed into panic. I called Joelle to ask if Lucas had moved and took his house with him.
“Who is Lucas?” Joelle asked.
“Your vocal coach! The guy you recommended to me!” I yelled.
“I’m sorry, girl, but I don’t know what you’re talking about. I've never met a Lucas.”
Baffled, I hung up the phone and tried to sing a simple major scale. Nothing. I went to my computer to find a meditational video on the internet that might help clear my mind. A familiar looking featured video came up on my feed and there he was! I clicked on the thumbnail and the video started to play. It was Lucas, improvising a soul melody as the front man for The Late Show house band. The voice sounded so familiar that I couldn't breathe.
It was my voice.
© Cathryn D. Blue. All Rights Reserved.