Column: Untalented crooner likes singing in the drain

By SCOTT SAALMAN

I once attended a church where the pastor said, just before breaking into hymn: “Now remember, God doesn’t care how good you sing, he just wants you to sing loud.” The preacher wasn’t a very good singer, so of course he would say this.

I experienced a church pew epiphany: The preacher and I obviously were worshiping opposing gods, for mine draws the line between those who should sing and those who shouldn’t — my God would be a great guest judge on “American Idol.”

I didn’t last long at that church. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than being prodded to sing. I do not — should not, will not — sing. Other than snakes, singing in public is my most enduring fear, which stems from hearing my voice played on a tape recorder for the first time as a child. The initial playback was a soul-sucking spirit breaker. Where did that drawl come from? Surely that’s just the Memorex me, not the live me, right?

With my speaking voice being such a disappointment (“disaster” is a better descriptor), it was a safe assumption that there was no hope whatsoever for my singing voice. Letting go of my dreams to be the next Donny Osmond, I began to lip-synch in first-grade music class, fooling the nuns — that or they pretended to be fooled just so they wouldn’t feel obligated to encourage me to sing. Nothing pretty played from my pie hole so I became the original Milli Vanilli, minus dreadlocks.

A couple years later, I convinced my mom to write a note asking the nuns to excuse me indefinitely from choir, where I had been further honing my lip-synching abilities. The note went uncontested.

Now, 40 years later, I wish I still had that note, for it could have come in handy during my most recent company Christmas luncheon. We barely got through the fried chicken when my co-worker Jon — who is blessed with a beautiful voice — suggested that we sing Christmas carols. It is intimidating to sing around Jon and doubly so around another co-worker, Kathy, who is a professionally trained singer and can give Sandi Patty a run for her money. You know a real songstress is in your midst if she first blows into a pitch pipe before she sings. Seriously, I have seen Kathy do this. If I blew into a pitch pipe, a pack of dogs likely would arrive.

Anyway, my co-workers joined Jon in an old churchy song, “Angels We Have Heard on High,” which I wasn’t familiar with even though everyone else was. Had I missed an interoffice memo? Had they held secret practices? Of all songs to sing! Had it been “Jingle Bells,” I could have at least lip-synched. When they sang the “Gloria in excelsis Deo, Gloria in excelsis Deo” part, my first thought was, “Someone has obviously been spending time with Rosetta Stone.” Suddenly, everyone was proficient in Latin! I sat in awkward silence, picking at my chicken bones, looking like a jaw-clenched, heathenish ass (nothing new there). At the end, someone said, “Scott didn’t sing. Scott didn’t sing,” giving me grade school music class flashbacks. It was my own private nightmare before Christmas.

Don’t even get me started on karaoke. I’d rather juggle snakes. Birthday parties bum me out, too — even my kids’ — because of the dreaded, obligatory “Happy Birthday” singalong. I usually pretend to be too busy taking photos when this occurs. I’m sure my kids, years from now, will moan to therapists, “Dad never sang Happy Birthday to me.”

When I informed Mary — who has never heard me sing (which is why we are still together) — what I was writing about, she said a better topic would be how I actually do sing, the deepest, darkest secret I’ve shared in our relationship.

It’s true. When alone, I always sing. I sing to my cat, despite its “please stop singing” glare. I sing recipe steps while measuring spices, slicing carrots, chopping onions and tenderizing stew beef, often in zealous operatic fashion. I’m like Pavarotti with a potato peeler.

I sing in my car. If another car approaches from the other lane or if someone passes from behind, I pretend to talk into my cellphone while I sing something like, “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun...”

The shower stall is my true stage. Before I’m even wet, a song emits from within me; nothing planned — it just comes automatically, as if my mental jukebox is on random shuffle mode. The past few mornings, for reasons I cannot explain, I channeled Ethel Merman’s voice and sang, “There’s no business like show business like no business I know,” over and over — and I hate show tunes.

Yes, I sang Ethel Merman badly — but I sang her loudly.

Maybe that preacher was onto something after all.

Or maybe I just need a pitch pipe — albeit one that is waterproof.

Scott Saalman and the Will Read (and sing) For Food Players will perform at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Haysville at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17. The public is invited. Admission: canned good or monetary donation for Community Food Bank. Don’t worry. Scott will not sing.




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