For the past two years, I've been watching Glee and assuming that no high school kids anywhere had voices like the kids on the show. Clearly another case of Hollywood glamorizing and exaggerating what was possible for a high school glee club. I mean, we didn't have anyone who was nearly that vocally talented in my high school. Vocal Adrenaline? I mean seriously: Vocal Ritalin, maybe - then we'd at least be able to focus on the songs we weren't singing.
But then it occurred to me - the reason for this assumption was because there were no opportunities for kids in my high school to sing "Don't Stop Believin'" to a panel of judges, in competition with other kids in the state league. Best we could approximate was our high school choir busting out a rousing dirge of "Oif'n Priptichik" or if we were feeling really boisterous, "The Partisan Song." (It's a Holocaust song, but it's about the partisans surviving in the woods, which means it's a jaunty march, although still in a minor key.) There was the one year we put on a musical production of "Pinocchio," but we had to sing all of the songs as a group, to avoid the problem of kol isha, of girls singing alone and unwittingly causing teenage boys' hormones to run around like vildechayas. Because that would be the first time this would ever have happened in a yeshiva day school.
Did kids in my school have good voices? Who knows? It's possible that they, themselves, don't even know. Not even to this day.
Once I got to college, I started hearing about friends who had had opportunities to discover their voices in their respective high schools - through musicals, through something amazing called "sing," in which they did just that - each class (freshman, sophomore, junior and senior) had their own "Sing," an internal competition and celebration of song. I had grown up in a house of music, of song, of musicals both Broadway and homegrown. We had memorized librettos, listened to Disney musicals on long car trips, and performed original songs and song parodies at family events. The concept of "Sing" sounded like my idea of heaven.
College should have been a perfect time to test the old pipes, see if I had anything other than a love of music and song. But I felt like it was too late to start - people in college had the benefit of years of training and performing experience; I couldn't even read music. So my singing stayed inside: showers had great acoustics, I discovered, and I lucked into a group of college friends who liked to sit around singing the libretto from Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and Aspects of Love, so it was like a second family, only with the occasional outing to a fraternity party.
In the years that followed college graduation, I found my voice. In writing, mostly. Occasionally in performance, whether in at a piano bar downtown on my first birthday in NYC, at the improv classes that transformed my writing and confidence or at karaoke, where I learned lessons about myself and about others. Watching others, trying to typecast them and predict the songs they chose to perform - and getting it wrong lots of the time - made me realize that you can't always see a person's song or inner self in their outer presentation. People started to surprise me, and it was in this venue that I started to surprise myself. I got back in touch with the songs that moved me and learned to channel the personas of the singers that made them famous.
Glee came along years later. It appealed to the musically-inclined, but musically-stunted high schooler in me, to my inner musical theater geek/would-be-diva seeking coolness, approval, self-confidence. From the first episode, studded with the strains of 80s hits, I was taken with it like a soulmate spied across a crowded room. There was music, and hearts soared, and it was love.
As the show progressed, there were missteps - but the episodes that failed to thrill me were still better than no episodes at all. And as I sing along every week - even with some of the original songs, which I'd never heard before - I feel regretful to have been denied the opportunities of music in high school, and grateful to have these moments in the years since, moments in which I can reach into my heart, yank out a song, feel it resonate in my bones and flesh, and rediscover my own voice.