“I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing” – William James
When I was young I used to sing in the church choir. It was something my friends and I did together and I really enjoyed it. In the 4th grade there was a talent show at school and my teacher required everyone to participate saying that we all had special talents, we just had to discover them. I decided to sing for the show but the song that I wanted to sing (“Once Upon a December” from the animated Anastasia movie) did not have any sheet music or recordings, so I would have to sing it without music.
I waited back stage for my turn to sing, I was so nervous I was shaking. When it was my turn I was handed a microphone and walked to the middle of the stage. The microphone was heavy and cold in my tiny 9-year-old hands. I looked out at the gym below me; full of parents, teachers and kids from my school and took a deep breath. The silence was deafening, I didn’t have a music cue so I would have to break the silence myself. I opened my mouth and started singing, saliva collected in my mouth and I tried to push the notes past it, my knees felt like they would give out and my stomach had turned into a hard lump, I could feel my entire body vibrating with nerves. When the song was done I ran from the stage to my mom sitting in the audience and curled up in her lap, still shaking and crying. Everyone was surprised to my response to the talent show, I was such an outgoing child and no one expected me to be so shy when I sang but music brought out a kind of vulnerability that I very rarely felt. Everyone kept telling me how well I sang, I thought they were just being nice and trying to make me calm down.
That summer my mom told me that I had an audition for a choir, the Niagara Children’s Chorus. They had stopped taking auditions but my mom asked them to please hear me and said that I had been working with our church choir, the man who runs the church choir I was in was well known so they gave me an audition. I don’t remember the audition itself but I remember being overwhelmed with joy when I found out that I got in; I ran to the car bursting at the seams and as soon as the doors were closed sang out a very loud and confident high C which shocked my mom and simultaneously told her that joining the choir was the right thing for me to do.
For 3 years I sang with the choir; my family travelled to see my concerts, we travelled to Ottawa (8 hours away) to sing at a festival and were asked to perform a number of times at different local events. I usually sang soprano, the high notes made my heart sing, and the one time I was asked to sing alto I learned the soprano part and sang that anyway. I had a number of solos and although I was nervous for each one of them, they made me feel alive, special and happy.
One year the choir had to stop running, there was not enough enrollment to justify the budget that hosting the choir required. For a few months a couple of girls and I continued to take music lessons out of the choir’s offices but that soon ended aswell. Music faded from my life, I did not return to the church choir and sang only in the school choirs.
Fast forward to 2006 – 7 years after the choir shut down. I can’t remember exactly why but I started seeing my old choir director for voice lessons. I met with him once a week and he played piano while I sang, we were working towards my conservatory of music qualifications but I just loved singing. In 2009 I had to stop seeing him – I was starting treatment for my eating disorder and didn’t have the time or energy to sing anymore. I spent 5 years focusing on my disorder, going through treatment and back to life, through relapses and recoveries. I had joined a church choir for a few months around Christmas time but church music was boring to me unless it was Christmas, the choir director didn’t do much to challenge us and on Christmas Eve when I had a full blown panic attack after out a high note in “Oh Holy Night” I stopped singing again.
This past year my recovery has been going very well and I found myself longing to sing again. A friend of mine posted that a very prestigious local choir (Chorus Niagara) was hosting auditions and I decided to look into it. A few months later I had my audition, I was so nervous I felt like that 9 year old child on the stage of her elementary school again. I went through my audition and when the artistic director asked me to join the choir I was shocked; was he serious? Was he just being nice? He couldn’t possibly want me to sing with his choir, I wasn’t good enough – was I? He said that the second he heard me sing he wanted me to join the choir and I was so grateful for the chance to sing again.
For the last 2 months I have been singing with just over 100 other people and loving every second or it. We meet for 3 hour rehearsals weekly and when the time comes to end, I wish we could just keep going. I am a soprano 1 (or descant) so there is no shortage of lofty notes that make my head dizzy and heart flutter. This weekend we had our first concert, there were over 300 people there and the place was sold out. People came out to see me sing with the choir, a friend, my mother, my mother-in-law and great aunt-in-law and my husband, I snuck quick glances at them as I sang and smiled each time – they had come to see me amidst a sea of 100 people who were signing – they were here for me! After the 2 hours of singing there was a great cheer and a lot of clapping, I saw my loved ones’ faces beaming and heard their hollers, I started laughing and could feel my whole body glowing – I was home.
It’s easy to forget who you are when you are wrapped up in an illness like an eating disorder. It’s easy to consume yourself with only disordered thoughts and behaviours, leaving the things that truly make you happy behind as you make room for the ever-growing presence of the disorder. It is only in recovery that I am able to truly participate in life again, only in recovery that I can dedicate the time and energy needed to pursue my dreams and only in recovery that I have the energy and motivation to do something other than swim deeper into my disorder.
In recovery I have opened myself to vulnerability, to possibility, to joy and to my true self. I am still trying to work out who my true self is but this is a giant start. I am a singer who is part of an extraordinarily talented group of singers.
I don’t sing because I am happy, it is because I sing that I am happy – music has helped me feel complete and I wouldn’t give up what I’ve found in re-discovering my voice for anything – not even thinness.