“I sang my first notes
in the shadow of desire,
and my song has reached
This is the last bar,
and I’m taking my final bow.”
I have shared a relationship of worship with music since I was five, maybe younger. And now I am ready to return my borrowed songbook back to the library it came from. For years, I have sung to the inanimate walls of my room, to the trees in remote hills, to my books and my pens. And now after one last warm-up, I will not sing again.
I was seven or eight when my first music teacher said that I had a voice that was too manly for a girl so young. I was eleven when another choral teacher said that I was trying too hard to make it sweet.
I was fourteen when I sang as the lone tenor, in a choir made up of only young girls, all of whose parts were high, pretty and womanly. The trend continued into college because in an all girls’ institution, the deep, chesty resonance of my voice complemented the sultry altos and gave meat to the unearthly, hauntingly beautiful sopranos.
I was 21 when I landed at a community choir to audition for the part of a high tenor, when the conductor decided to experiment a little and found out that I could sing as high and bright as her highest sopranos. She marveled at the range of my voice and gave me a spot among the first sopranos of the choir. And that is where I started a wild, short journey of vocal self-discovery.
I studied under my guru, Situ Singh Buehler and learned a great many things about not only my music but also my inner self, which always found peace in the middle of a song. It was as if my body knew no other way to connect to something higher than itself without breaking into a melody.
Under my teacher, I found my place, artistically and spiritually. Like I had always known, my voice sat low and warm, deeply rooted in the earth but too raw to be truly something remarkable. And yet, I was glad because I was singing. It was what I loved best.
Destiny is strange. I soon realized that I had gotten my ticket to a bus that I had missed years ago. It was too late to start all over again, and so I made my decision and said yes to the opportunity to come to America and study journalism.
Here, I found a place in a choir called the Oratorio Society. I found friends and teachers in fellow choristers, I found women with deep voices, unashamed of their rich, booming vocal folds. And I found acceptance. I found appreciation.
And I found out about a gift. Apparently, my deep voice that had been scorned and misunderstood for so long, was a unique instrument. And my professor here, Dr. Kathleen Roland-Silverstein said that while she was still not completely sure, I was probably a true contralto, a rare type of voice often misclassified because people simply do not know much about it.
Imagine my surprise on being told that I had been born with the proverbial divine blessing and that there was much I could do with it. For a while, I rejoiced. And between then and now, the ugly truth of time came and shattered my bubbling excitement yet again.
I have never really studied music. I do not read notes well. I listen and learn by the use of my ears. I have no money to go to a music school. And more importantly, I am terrified of opening my mouth to sing to an audience. I cannot be heard because I am more a product of my fears and rejections and oddities, than I am of my raw and unpolished voice.
I have never sounded particularly brilliant to anyone, except for these teachers of mine, and to people who have heard me inadvertently because I didn’t know they were around. And that is how I know that my audience is still the same; the walls of my room, the pillows on my bed, and the empty valleys of deserted hilltowns.
But they can do without my music; such is their impartial, unopinionated nature. And I have no need for it anymore anyway.
So here’s bidding adieu to a craft that has made me who I am, and broken me just enough to teach me vital lessons in humility and forbearance.