My grandma is an artist, my mom is an architect, and I am a singer; but I haven’t always been one.
I remember signing myself up for my fourth-grade talent show. I practiced my song, "A Thousand Miles," for weeks. I was sure I had it down pat. The day of the show, I realized I would not be able to sing. I was simply and utterly too afraid to stand up in front of the audience and share that piece of me that would define my happiness for years to come.
I quickly came to understand that I would need to practice my way out of stage fright. I decided to seize every opportunity to expose myself through my art and my music. I tried out for the "X-Factor" and "The Voice." After making it past a few rounds without breaking down in tears, the pressure of singing to an audience proved too imposing, and the songs I’d prepared for years became slurs of unlearned lyrics. I would attempt to sing for my extended family at gatherings, but there would always be something holding me back. Something that made singing for others an unpleasant experience for me. Maybe it was my heart racing and clumping in my throat or my head spinning around the room waiting to randomly combust. Maybe it was the fear of letting people down or the fear of not being my best. Either way, I was slowly giving up on myself.
In the midst of my identity crisis, community service became a way to escape from myself and engulf in others’ needs. I volunteered at assisted living residencies, mostly. I would hum as I worked and I began to notice that many of the residents took note of this. Humming turned into mumbling and mumbling turned into singing and slowly I was gaining the confidence to share my voice with those who would listen.
I soon began to realize how shallow my fear really was. I was so afraid that people would not enjoy my voice that I denied them the pleasure of live, interactive music. People were at the ends of their lives requesting live music and I, who could provide them with it, was too afraid to. I took initiative and founded a non-profit organization called “Singing For Smiles.” I created this organization in the hope of collaborating the beauty of volunteer work with the gift of talented ambitious students, to bring smiles to the faces of the elderly, the ill, and others who truly needed it. My journey with Singing For Smiles has been rewarding beyond comprehension. Members who grew extremely passionate about this once small organization and gave of their time to Singing For Smiles and to spread the beauty of music, have helped continue and develop Singing For Smiles for over four years—you can track our events through Facebook @Singingforsmiles. Before every performance I have, I remind myself of the true reasons I am singing and, now, I do not tense up.
In my senior year of high school, I signed myself up to sing two solos at my school’s choral concert: A Tribute to the Beatles. I chose two songs that my father and I have lived and breathed. I practiced and perfected "Blackbird" and "Across The Universe." I had them down pat. The day of the show, I got up on stage and sat on the stool next to the guitar player, eyes closed, blinded by the stage lights. Following the first strum of my verse on the guitar came my voice. At that point, I was able to share that piece of me that has defined my happiness my entire life: my voice, my soul, my song.
Although I am still “a work in progress,” this performance was a milestone in my life that gave me a small look into what I can and will become. I have gone on to pursuing a minor in music through the Jacob’s School of Music; an accomplishment beyond anything I could ever ask for. Living and experiencing, failing and succeeding, there is always a lesson to be learned.
Fear is a real and paralyzing obstacle, but we must not let it consume us or get in our way. When we learn to live life for a purpose, whether it be for ourselves or the greater good of the world around us, is when we will finally be able to be ourselves and truly make the best of our time here.
For me, singing is not only about perfecting the vocal instrument; it is not only about being the best singer. It is about filling the world with the universal language of music and giving back to those who need it. I am no longer in the heat to become the world's greatest singer; I am now in the race to replenish the musical soul. I now know what it truly means to be a singer; now I know that in my own crumpled terminology of the word, I am a singer.