When “Nothing” Became Something

11 Nov

This is what my sheet music looked like on the outside

Have you ever had one of those moments when you tried really hard at something and then it didn’t work out? I’m sure you have. Life is full of moments like this. Disappointments. I’ve had my fair share of these but what about when the opposite happens? What about when you try your best at something and totally think it’s never going to work and then it does? One of those experiences in my life came back to me this week in my musings on the way to work. I heard this ad on the radio for “A Chorus Line” and it made me smile. I thought back to 8th grade.

Imagine me, a 14 year old with a perm and braces, who had a dream. All I had wanted to do since I was ten years old was to move to California and act. I knew that as a part of that, I would need to sing and so I tried out for my middle school’s show choir, Medinah Motion and Company. Imagine my surprise when I made it in! I still remember my Motion days well. For competitions we wore black pants and black shoes along with our royal blue suit jackets with sequins and matching blue sequined cumberbunds and blue bowties. This was way before the Glee days. I wish in retrospect I would have written this down. I’d be famous like Ryan Murphy now. We would sing the latest hits like Mariah Carey’s “Hero,” or “A Whole New World” and we’d even learn all of the singing parts and dance moves to go along with our vocals.

Medinah Motion and Co. I'm on the upper left, the second one down from the top

Anyway, I remember that as part of Motion, we were asked to sing in the Illinois Grade School Music Association’s Solo Ensamble contest. Now I could sing, especially when I had guidance, but I was never a soloist. I was part of four ensambles. That much I knew. Still, Mrs. Holland, our music teacher, asked me what number I wanted to do on my own. I immediately thought, “This is it! My shot!” I figured if I could get a 1 (the best score) on my solo some talent agent from Hollywood would be sitting in the audience (of this random elementary school in the suburbs of northwest Chicago?) and he would discover me! I had it all planned out.

I needed a piece with “acting” in it. Now I’m not exactly sure what Mrs. Holland was thinking when she thought I would make a good Morales from “A Chorus Line.” I was neither street smart, Latina, nor did I ever swear or have much of an amazing singing range. I was pretty much a goody two shoes with stars in her eyes.

This much I had in common with Morales: she was a woman trying to get a break in show biz. And she tried taking all of these acting classes but just didn’t get the point of it.  That’s what the song, “Nothing” is basically about. You can listen to it here and see what I’m talking about.  Being the idealistic teenager I was, when Mrs. Holland gave me the number and I started meeting with my accompanist, I thought it would all come together rather naturally. But it didn’t.

For weeks I struggled with the song. I tried to learn the part. I tried to act out the parts when Morales was more talking than singing. I tried to put my heart and soul into it. A week before, I would practice and cry. I never made it all the way through the song without totally stopping and starting all over again. My parents watched me. From their bleak looking faces I knew this was a total mistake. They got mad at Mrs. Holland for assigning such a hard solo to a novice such as myself. They told me to go back and get a new song. I thought about it but in those days I was really afraid of what people thought of me and I decided I had to keep the song. But it was agony.

The night before the contest, I knew my ensamble pieces cold. We were singing a 50s doo-wop piece, some Andrew Lloyd Webber song, and a couple of others that I don’t remember. And then there was “Nothing.” I dreaded it. The tape I had to sing along with that had my part on it was practically falling apart. I’d practiced and practiced. It was still horrible. I went to bed scared that I wouldn’t be able to show my face around school after the contest. I had nightmares about blowing the whole contest and running out of the room crying and having the judges give me a 4 out of pity.

The next morning at the competition, I got through the ensambles okay. It was a long day. The time for my solo came. My friend Jamie came to watch. I remember because she was one of the best singers I’d ever heard as well as part of Motion with me. Her parents were in the audience, too. I was nervous. I remember that my hands were sweaty. As soon as the piano started, something inside of me changed. I knew I had to get through this but that I didn’t want to actually get through it, I wanted to do it the way I had always wanted to do it. Although I had never done the whole song the whole way through yet, somehow I had to make it work. I prayed. I begged God to help me.

In those few moments, I became Morales. I don’t know how I did it. Maybe I suddenly felt her frustration from trying to be her for so many weeks. I found myself acting. I found myself showing my audience all of my emotions, which was ironic since the song was about a woman who had a hard time conjuring up her emotions when she most needed them. So there it was. I was finished with the song. The longest 5 minutes and 40 seconds of my life. But I had owned it! In the end, people clapped. I remember that part. And I knew I had given it my best.


At the awards ceremony, I received a 1. I still have the little medal that they gave me. I couldn’t belive it. I still to this day consider it a miracle. There is no way I should have been able to nail that song. It was impossible. But somehow, I did.  It gives me hope for those times when I’m faced with disappointments. When things seem totally impossible and I have to get through it no matter what. It makes me think that I’m stronger than I might realize. I have hope in those moments that there will be many more Morales’s in my future.

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