Sometimes when I find a lull in my one-on-one conversations, I ask, “Do you sing in the shower?” Depending on your point of view, I could be asking innocently about your daily life habits, or I could be asking a creepy, intrusive question about what you do when you think no one else is watching you.
There’s good reason to sing in the shower. For one, steam hydrates the vocal cords and helps them sound better. The sound also bounces off the walls to create an amplified echo. Best of all, when surrounded by the warmth of the steamy water, you can do no wrong. Once you pull aside the curtains and step onto the cold tiles, however, the bubble is broken. You can no longer be Taylor Swift or Idina Menzel. You’re just you.
I think one of the bravest things one can do is to sing (sober) in front of a crowd. Singing forces you to expose your heart and soul to other people. Your voice is a communal instrument, one that almost every human being possesses. By luck of the genetic draw, you end up with either an angelic voice or a frog croak. And, as with our appearances, people can use simple comments on your voice to either validate or destroy you.
When we fear judgment, it’s sometimes easier to just hide in a crowd. For shy people like me, participating in choir is the perfect opportunity to perform from the heart without actually being heard. Then there are others who aren’t meant to blend in. When I sang in a children’s choir, a boy stood next to me in the alto section. His voice was so unique that the conductor constantly chastised him for sticking out of the crowd, although she complimented him for his great “solo voice.” I just stood silently by, annoyed by his loud, slightly off-key voice.
I don’t know where he is now, or what he is doing with his life. I only hope that he is still the same brave choir boy, shamelessly sticking out from the crowd. I hope his high self-esteem hasn’t been quashed by people such as me who judged him for standing out.
It’s hard to stop judging other people’s voices if I’m even harsher when it comes to critiquing my own. When I sang in the children’s choir, our conductor asked us to turn in recordings of ourselves singing on cassette tapes. These assignments were torture for me, especially when I had to listen to the playback of the recording. Whenever I thought I had turned in a good performance, the weak warbling coming out of the tape player would prove otherwise.
Fast forward to last semester, when I thought my raspy voice, courtesy of a lingering cold, would sound just like Sia’s. So I recorded myself singing “Titanium” on my phone. When I played back the recording, it sounded like I was choking. I’m happy to announce that Sia is still the reigning queen of the raspy voice.
Sometimes, it’s just easier to hold on to delusions of how good we sound. I once watched an “American Idol” episode featuring a woman who bragged about how amazing she was because of all the practice she had with a home karaoke machine. It turned out that she was a terrible singer. I watched her face fall as the judges told her on national television how incredibly awful she was. The reality is, solitude can trick you into believing that the world outside your shower or empty apartment is forgiving and accepting.
But aside from those who are gunning to win “American Idol,” most of us who sing in the shower do it for ourselves. An old floormate of mine used to sing in the communal showers to relieve her stress. It was loud, guttural throat singing that bordered on screaming and echoed throughout the hallway. Clearly, she didn’t mind if the rest of us heard her raw emotions.
The shower is a personal space. It’s where you go to bare your soul and watch it mingle with the steam instead of being crushed by Simon Cowell or unforgiving recording machines. In the shower, you can learn to be honest with yourself and accept your voice as a part of you. You can learn to be the person who jokes about being tone-deaf but still sings at the top of your lungs anyway. One of my favorite songs from my time in children’s choir is “Sing” from “Sesame Street,” which advises us to “Sing, sing a song … don’t worry that it’s not good enough / For anyone else to hear.” And in a fast-paced world full of intense scrutiny and endless competition, a worry-free sanctuary where we can belt out simple songs is just what we need.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the semester’s regular opinion writers begin.