Singing with the Jimmy King Trio in Winnipeg: Lenny Breau on guitar.
After years of braces to correct my “toothy grin,” as a young woman with an expensive smile and a love for the stage, it was finally time to pursue my singing dream: But how? Where? I was determined to find a way.
I decided to start with a change of scenery. I quit my boyfriend, my job and the hot city and headed for the hills: the Rocky Mountains and The Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta, Canada. This decision was based on information from my first singing teacher, Madame Carmichael—a jolly robust woman of Italian descent with a penchant for purple: monochromic layers that included the wallpaper, the sofa and a series of floral dresses in various shades of purple ranging from violet to puce. Her carefully coiffed hair-do was dyed a mauve-beige, replete with a purple bow to match her beloved miniature poodle, Mimi—who chronically occupied Madame’s ample lap and all of her attention, leaving little time for me and my first fragile attempts at singing.
“Ah, but I cannot hear you, my darling,” she would say, “You must sing out; you must open the throat; you must push out the lungs; you must take the deep breath—but first, you must find the note!”
“Okay, okay, I know I can do this, but can we practice it in B flat above middle C? It’s the only note I’m sure to find today. Here we go: mah … moh … mooh … mayh … meeh. There; is that better? Did I get it? Maybe now I can sing a song right through?”
“No, no, my darling, you cannot,” Madame said, distracted as usual, and shifting her monocle to her other mauve-shaded eyelid while searching for Mimi, who was now parked near the front door, panting to get out. “We know there are many more notes in the scale; we must find them all. Now, take the deep breath,” she commanded and the piano would loudly sound the chord.
But after searching for three weeks and “finding” only three notes, I knew I had to leave. I don’t have time for this, I thought. Twenty-one is probably too late anyway, but I must keep trying or my dream will die in the agony of one tremulous note. And so, with time and Mimi yipping at my heels, I found enough courage to march out of Madame Carmichael’s door into a musical future fraught with anticipation, high ambitions and deep resolve. With a positive mantra pounding in my ears (in B flat), a bullish determination was born. Now is the time, I thought. My singing dream must be fully pursued or fully dropped. I’ll have to find the right teacher!