The Gift of Singing

For the fifth time that night I rewind the cassette and hit play. “And now, the one you’ve all been waiting for … Color Me Badd with All 4 Love.” The music starts and I thank the stars I was able to catch the song on my clock radio tape recorder. I sit up straight in my bed as the lyrics kick in, swaying to the music and taking a deep breath. “I’m so glad you’re my girl, I’ll do anything for you,” I sing. I’m 11 years old and I’ve never been brave enough to sing in front of anyone. When I’m alone, I feel like I have this untapped well of talent just begging to be unleashed. I close my eyes and pretend I’m singing in front of the whole school, everyone in awe of my sweet voice.

I’m mid-note when my mom opens my bedroom door. “What are you doing in here? Go to bed.” In the dim light cast by my nightlight, I see a lingering smirk on her face as she leaves. I think she’s laughing at me. I imagine her sitting in front of the mirror and combing her hair as she embarrasses me in front of dad; snickering about my crappy voice as they get ready for bed.

That moment in time unfurls and wraps itself around my neck for the next 16 years. Whether I’m in church or at a Christmas party singing carols – my throat won’t open up all the way when I try to sing in public. I pretend I don’t care and sing in a warbling monotone. There’s no joy in it for me.

“You HAVE to sing, dude. Come on!” Cory is practically jabbing me in the chest. We've only met in person once before but that doesn’t really phase him. He’s the ultimate avatar of peer pressure. He also has a singing voice that makes girls blush. Damn him.

“Fine, just … give me a bit. I’m not nearly drunk enough yet.”

He grins and saunters off to the living room to watch the other rabbitcon attendees pound through a Weezer song. Every six months we congregate at Julian's home to shut out the real world and be kids again for a weekend. Knowing the recently released Rock Band would be in full effect, Cory has been building me up toward this moment for months now. I return to the mini-bar for some more liquid courage. My palms are sweaty. Even after all these years, I still feel the sting of being caught out when I was a kid.

The night wears on. Biding my time, I play boardgames and try to keep as far away from the living room as possible. Eventually, people filter out back to the fire pit for the promise of smoores and a break from all the noise. Soon the house is nearly empty and I approach the mic stand like it’s going to bite me. I pick up the controller and start flicking through the song list, trying to find something easy. I glance around nervously -- Cory never said he had to be here when I sang.

A couple bystanders walk in and take up the instruments. The drums are manned. I can feel their growing impatience as I painstakingly go through each song on the list. I listen to the preview of Gone Away by The Offspring and figure it’s as close to yelling as you can get while still calling it singing. I hadn’t heard Sean Sands sing “Rebel Yell” yet -- so I didn’t know better.

The atmosphere in the living room is the opposite of electric. We’re late into the night and everyone is tired. No one knows or cares about how big a deal this is for me. It’s about as perfect a situation as I could hope for. I start the song and take a deep breath as the music ramps up. The lyrics come tumbling across the screen and I suddenly feel backed into a corner. I open my mouth and croak. I cough to cover it up. I try again and this time I manage to make it through a line. And then another. And another. When I get to the chorus I close my eyes and try to push past that choking anxiety and actually put some more of myself into it. I sing the words by heart and I feel that old tightness around my throat start to give way for the first time.

Just like that, song is over. I look around at the bland faces of my tired fellow rockers and feel a surge of excitement. I sounded awful, of course, but I did it. “Let’s do another,” I say with the same confidence I imagine a first time bungee jumper feels after recovering from their first leap off a bridge. Eventually Cory catches me singing too and it’s not a big deal. 16 years of pent up performance anxiety all washed away with some plastic instruments and a little help from my friends.

A few years and a few rabbitcons later, I finally convince myself that I'm ready to clutter my living room with plastic instruments and a mic of my own. Rock Band 3’s release arrives and I run out the door to buy The Beatles Rock Band Limited Edition bundle along with the new game. This is the first set of plastic instruments to enter my house since the original Guitar Hero. Bemused, Karla helps me unpack all the instruments and get everything setup. We settle into a long night of taking turns playing the guitar and singing. It's not something we've done just the two of us before and I revel in singing just for her and our disinterested cats.

Eventually she begs off and slips upstairs to get ready for bed. I flip the disc over to The Beatles and pull up Dig a Pony. The music starts and I smile as I think of that earnest kid sitting in his room and singing his heart out. I grab the mic, close my eyes and pretend I’m singing for him.

Thanks, Harmonix.

Comments

Great story. Great game. Color Me Badd? I'm not sure they have any DLC yet.

Great piece, Shawn "Ginger" Andrich.

Strangely enough, this is beginning to happen to me, and it feels great. For so long I was hiding behind the plastic guitar. Always played Guitar Hero, but with RB3, it just seemed like the right time to dive into the entire band experience. We just snagged the RB3 "Pro" drums (RB2 drums w/cymbals) and the Keyboard, and the wireless mics are on the way. The most my wife and I played before was guitar/bass. Not anymore.

The keyboard is fun but the drums are all kinds of awesome. Like you, I'm scared to death of singing even though I enjoy it when no one is around to mock me, but you know what? I'm going to have as much fun as possible and shed my inhibitions and try and bust out some great tunes.

If I'm lucky, everyone will be too distracted by their instruments to pay me much attention, but even if they aren't, I can at least make them laugh

Color Me Badd, holy gingers!

Cool story Sean, it's funny how games can force us outside of our long held comfort zones. And it just takes that once to break down a barrier.

I too fancied myself an above-average singer during my adolescent and teenage years, and I really have Rock Band to thank for finally letting me have the mock-stardom I always dreamed of. The first time I got together with a group of my friends and belted out Boston’s “Long Time” with the whole band playing along, I literally had chills. Can’t wait to get Rock band 3!

Great story Shawn! I already had all the instruments when The Beatles RB launched, but picking up the bundle now is a great way to get all the instruments for RB3, since there is no bundle.

Like you, I always used to shy away from the mic. The Beatles RB was what really brought me into it, though. You have to get extra mics for that. Singing vocal harmonies in those songs is absolutely amazing. RB3 has the same feature now, and all the DLC going forward has support for it, if the song warrants it. RB3 has some amazing songs to sing harmonies for as well; Bohemian Rhapsody, Good Vibrations, and Roundabout come to mind immediately. I'm loving the hell out of the keyboard, too. Pro keys is the best thing to happen to the music game genre. Well, until I can get my hands on the pro guitar that is.

Great piece!

There is something about singing that makes us feel more vulnerable in front of others than say, playing an instrument or even public speaking, isn't there?

Singing and dancing skills are two of the most regularly criticized capabilities, starting as early as childhood. Which is a shame because they are beautiful expressions of mood, and until kids are shamed into thinking otherwise, they enjoy them utterly.

IMAGE(http://imgur.com/vbdHw.jpg)

I'm at the point where I'm comfortable singing loudly to myself, and quietly in a group, and that's only for songs I know really well. It's gonna be some time before I'm really ready to sing loudly by myself in front of other people.

Had a Rock Band gathering the other night. Eight adults. Only three of us would sing, and one of those three is utterly awful (and, to his credit, he enjoys his awfulness). Five adults were totally petrified of getting behind the mic to warble out some off-key version of "Werewolves of London" or some such.

You, Mr. Certis, are far from alone. Most people are big wusses about singing.

I haven't sung since my little brother gave me a slow clap after he caught me singing something from Looney Tunes in the dentist's office bathroom when I was 10. Goddamn paper-thin walls and stupid sexy Bugs Bunny.

My group of friends has a lot of RL musicians. The problem with Rock Band get-togethers is that they tend to lose track of their volume, and get *too* loud in our apartment! There are a few holdouts that are shy about singing, still, but I know I've gone from singing in the car/shower to singing in front of people thanks to Rock Band. I don't think it's made me any better, but it's made me less awkward.

Wonderful story, Shawn. I was grinning at the end, imagining your inner 11-year-old self finally being set free to sing at last!

What a great story. I do love that Rock Band brings out the voice in so many people. Before this game I would never sing in front of my wife, no matter how much she begged me. The first time I sang on Rock Band was "Dani California" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and now she has to pry the mic out of my warm, drunk hands.

I love that this game helps people come out of their shells.

Odd thing, a good friend of mine only sings when playing Rock Band because he's completely embarassed at the idea of playing any "instrument" and screwing up. He would rather put his shakey voice on the speakers (although he rathers we turn his vox down) than fail out on a guitar or drum bit.
Thanks for the article.

The last almost-3-years I've been singing lullabies to my little boy at bedtime. After about 1000 replays, I now think I can kind-of sort-of hit some of the notes in the chorus without sounding like a drowning rat.

The last almost-3-years I've been singing lullabies to my little boy at bedtime. After about 1000 replays, I now think I can kind-of sort-of hit some of the notes in the chorus without sounding like a drowning rat.

burntham77 wrote:

"Dani California" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

To this day the only song that I can play on expert for guitar and vocals at the same time...

Parents can be completely devastating without even a whiff of realization. That scares the crap out of me becoming one. I'm curious if your mom ever found out how she unwittingly destroyed any chance of you becoming a rock star, how she felt about it?

Also--sounds like Rock Band is to Americans what Karaoke is to Asians. Getting hammered and renting a KTV room (as they're called here) for an evening helped me discover the Tom Waits and Bob Dylan in me (yes, the less intelligible, the better).

Why do I get the feeling that this is an attempt to get Goodjers to post videos of their Rock Band performances?

Great piece. I have always had the same problem. I love to sing, but darn it if I can do it in front of people. I've gotten to where I'm pretty comfortable for the most part anymore thanks mostly to Rock Band. I did manage to belt out Helter Skelter the other week with a bunch of my friends there.

Haven't sung in public since primary school. I don't like the sound of my own voice.

Chairman_Mao wrote:

Parents can be completely devastating without even a whiff of realization. That scares the crap out of me becoming one. I'm curious if your mom ever found out how she unwittingly destroyed any chance of you becoming a rock star, how she felt about it?

Also--sounds like Rock Band is to Americans what Karaoke is to Asians. Getting hammered and renting a KTV room (as they're called here) for an evening helped me discover the Tom Waits and Bob Dylan in me (yes, the less intelligible, the better).

Yeah, similar, but with options beyond just singing.

wordsmythe wrote:
Chairman_Mao wrote:

Parents can be completely devastating without even a whiff of realization. That scares the crap out of me becoming one. I'm curious if your mom ever found out how she unwittingly destroyed any chance of you becoming a rock star, how she felt about it?

Also--sounds like Rock Band is to Americans what Karaoke is to Asians. Getting hammered and renting a KTV room (as they're called here) for an evening helped me discover the Tom Waits and Bob Dylan in me (yes, the less intelligible, the better).

Yeah, similar, but with options beyond just singing.

Well let's just say the endings are never as happy as you want them to be.

Breander and I shamelessly belt out tunes to each other on RB games all the time. Neither of us are star performers but it sure is fun. However, I only sing depending on who else is around because sometimes even with a game people can be very critical.

I'm a wuss about singing because most of the songs aren't in a register I can sing. Either I go low and my voice starts cracking, or I go up an octave and shrill up the place. I enjoy singing, despite my horribleness, but I do wish there were more songs available in higher registers. It takes an already uncomfortable situation and turns it up a notch.

I feel ya, Shawn. Know that anxiety all too well.

I love to sing! I still don't think I have a great singing voice, and I don't know how I'd go if I cranked the difficulty to Expert (Hard's as high as I've ever gone), but I really do enjoy singing in Rock Band. With a full band, I've probably spent more time on the mic than anything else, just because there's always a shortage of willing singers, even in a house full of party-goers. I hope Rock Band 3 might help with that, though.

Years before Rock Band, we had SingStar, and it's hard to understate how popular it was here -- it seemed like SingStar was the official Australian passtime for a while there. Somehow, being one of a duo singing in front of your friends is far less intimidating than singing solo. Most people were still reluctant at first, but after a few songs, and the realisation that death from embarrassment was highly unlikely, nearly everyone gave it a go.

Actually singing harmonies in TB:RB or RB3 is quite a challenge, but you can just ignore them and have two or three people sing along to the same part without a problem. It could be just the thing to get those reluctant singers to finally step up to the mic!

What I will do is sing along to higher-pitched songs with a comic falsetto. My wife loves that.

I bought the Iron Maiden track pack the day it came out. I love Iron Maiden. I have a decent voice in a very limited range, and Bruce Dickinson's voice is so far out of my range it's tragic. I have started RB gatherings with me singing (or doing a shameful facsimile of singing) "Run to the Hills"; I figure after something that terrible, anyone should be willing to sing. And then they aren't.

This is the beauty of "Party Mode" in Band Hero on my Wii. It doesn't matter how bad you are, you can't fail the song. Even with this, I would only sing (for the first 3 times) when nobody else was around. I prefer to hide behind the drum kit when we friends over. I find this odd that I am that nervous of it considering I was a semi-regular at a local karoake bar. I could do ONE song really well and so-so on a few others. I don't think it's a good thing when people say you sound like Levon Helm. I would rather be able to drum like him.