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If you can walk, you can dance.  If you can talk, you can sing.

-African Proverb

Chapter 1

Why Can't I Sing?


On a bright spring morning in 1940, 5-year-old Joan skipped through the house, singing with joy and abandon:

You are my sunshine,

My only sunshine,

You make me happy,

When skies are gray...


She sang exuberantly, delighting in the joyous release. Suddenly, her mother, no doubt frazzled and frustrated by something unrelated said sharply, “Stop that noise!” Hurt and confused by her mother’s demand, Joan associated embarrassment and fear with singing for the first time. This brief encounter affected the way Joan viewed her singing for the rest of her life. For the next 57 years that same fear and embarrassment dulled the joy and freedom that Joan instinctively knew was a part of singing.

This early experience shaped Joan’s view of her singing voice. She told me that as a child in school, she would compare her voice with other children. This comparison only reinforced the conclusion she had come to early, that she “couldn’t sing.”

Yet Joan still loved to sing, and she did sing-to cheer herself up, with her children, at church and working with the preschoolers she loved to teach. Her daughter remembers, “When she was home with just family busily doing our own things, she would joyfully sing or hum while doing housework.”

Joan’s daughter continues, “When she was not self-conscious or anxious about the potential judgment of others, she had a truly lovely voice-very sweet and clear. But, she had difficulty matching her voice to pitches she heard.” And, in public, that lack was worsened by the anxiety and embarrassment from so long before. She told me, “I feel very hindered when I try to sing with the congregation at church. But even though I can’t carry a tune, I sing any way!” She also told me that she was very self-conscious in leading her preschoolers in singing.

When Joan was in her early 60’s, her daughter, knowing the bittersweet mixture of joy and anxiety that Joan associated with singing, gave her a surprising birthday gift. It was the gift of voice lessons with someone who claimed to be able to teach anyone to learn how to sing. That someone would be me.

In 30 years of teaching music, I have met many, many individuals much like Joan. These individuals concluded at some time in their lives that they could not sing. They had assumed they were “tone deaf,” or “couldn’t carry a tune,” that they could not or should not sing.

c. 2003 Ruth King Goddard