Spoiler alert: If you have a great singing voice, stop reading. Tone deaf? Keep going.
This happened many years ago, but the incident was so traumatic that it is forever etched in my memory. I was teaching at a school for low-functioning students who had a variety of severe disabilities. The small group and individual sessions with these students were exceptional. There was only one glitch in the day: morning meeting. Morning meeting was when the leader exchanged greetings with each kid (ha ha), taught a new song, and completed a calendar activity. Teachers took turns leading this hallowed event. That meant I could relax for one day before I started worrying about my turn to lead. Worry turned into panic and eventually, terror. Every other teacher, without exception, had a voice that carried through walls. They must have studied opera before entering special education. I am soft spoken and couldn’t carry a tune if my life depended upon it. Hence the terror.
Now imagine the scene. You are facing a group of about a dozen kids sitting on the floor, none of whom even notice that you exist. Each one is absorbed in some kind of repetitious action, like hand-flapping or yelling “Stop! Stop that!” Each child is accompanied by a teacher. And each teacher is staring at you in anticipation, waiting to see how you will capture the group’s attention. What song will you sing? To add to the nightmare, that song was always a solo performance for me. None of the kids were going to sing with me. None of the teachers could follow the tuneless melodies that squeaked out of my mouth. After my song, who could tell what day it was? Who cared about the weather? Fifteen minutes of purgatory.
Problem analysis: I am probably tuneless because I can’t remember melodies. The music part of my brain is empty. Smooth. No neurons there. All those neurons went to the verbal part of my brain, leaving a vast wasteland in the melody department. I go up when everyone else goes down. I don’t sing in the shower in case my husband hears me. I only belt out woeful sounds in the car, all by myself.
The unforgettable incident: For some stupid reason, I decided to sing a “new” song. All songs seemed new to me, but I would try one that no one else had sung before. I selected an Ella Jenkins tune: “There are many pretty trees all around the world (repeat 3 times)… and here’s a pretty one now. It’s an oak tree (repeat 3 times), it’s an oak….” You got it, right? My greeting time had gone as expected. Then it was song time. I was so tense that I could barely speak, much less sing. I had practiced that song for weeks, so a part of the melody was there, somewhere. As I “sang,” the kids turned to look at me, one by one. I was shocked. Then they started laughing. These kids couldn’t tell you their name. These kids didn’t even know they were in school. But they found my performance hilarious. So did the other teachers. When everyone finally stopped shrieking with laughter, someone remarked that they had never seen anything like that. Me neither. Which is why I only sing in the car.