He sat at the piano in the chapel, one eye squinched up as he concentrated on the sound coming from the person in front of him. When he stopped playing, he asked, “What do you do before you cross the street?”
“You look both ways,” the student replied after a beat.
“You’re not looking both ways. Try it again.”
Tom is a music teacher. Or, rather, a vocal teacher, which is a horse of a different colour. He asks questions that make no sense. It’s indescribable. It’s like hearing your language for the first time and understanding every word.
When Jay told me about Tom for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect. “Holistic,” he called this vocal teacher, and I pictured a shaman in a caftan, holding a rain shaker. I did not expect to meet a sort of Michael Caine-type dressed all in black.
Seven or eight students filed in shortly after we arrived, all of them older and much more comfortable than I. They made a point to introduce themselves as they settled into their seats. They seemed pleased to see a new face.
One by one they took their turn in front of the chapel and sang a song while Tom played the piano.
I knew I wanted to sing, but holy-hell was I ever scared.
I had chosen an Italian arietta I had practiced with Anne but then I got cold feet—one of the other students stood up and sang the most beautiful Italian aria I’d ever heard in person. I turned to Munchkin and whispered, “I can’t sing this song.”
She whispered back, “sing what comes naturally.”
So I picked out Carole King, even though I didn’t know the whole song. And it was amazing. It was a disaster to be sure—I butchered the song as I began losing the words, but no one laughed, no one chastised me for not remembering. In fact, as I looked to the audience, they began providing me with the words. I only had one copy of the music anyway, and Tom needed to play the piano, so I couldn’t do much more than sing from memory.
But as I sang the chorus one last time, I felt a calmness come over me, and I felt the words soar out of my mouth as if they were borne on wings. They didn’t fall, they did not get lost, they were set free.
The next time around, for we all sang two songs, I sang the arietta. And I remembered all of the words.