17. Singing Higher
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Seventeen Singing Higher “You need to sing higher, Blair.” It was Danny’s latest piece of advice. Even though he didn’t sing much himself, he had definite ideas about every aspect of the music —including this one. He’d first made the suggestion in the summer, and he continued into the fall, repeating it regularly at the jams. Eventually, he revealed how he’d reached this conclusion: by hearing me sing at the Augusta student showcase. “Don’t be afraid to push yourself,” he reminded me. It was just one sign of Danny’s growing seriousness that fall. It came out in little ways. He was starting to correct people when they referred to his Wednesday sessions as jams—they were workshops. Or he’d make critical comments about students who didn’t practice enough. It was a little disconcerting, this air of urgency. He also wanted to help my band get better—starting with Robert, our new guitarist, who had just played his first gig with us. I’d first met Robert at one of the CFLFM jams, when he’d shown up with an electric guitar and amp. Initially, he met with a rebuff by Danny, who took him for one of those middle-aged rockers who wants to dabble in traditional music, and not someone likely to adapt to the no-frills style of traditional rhythm guitar Danny favored. But Robert felt the pull of Cajun music for a deeper reason: his own Acadian roots. He’d grown up in Maine, with French as his first language, and he had started out playing guitar in the family band. He kept coming around, and in the spring he approached Danny about coming to the garage jams. After a few months had passed I realized he was serious, if hardheaded—and I invited him to join Sauce Piquante. Danny was also pushing himself. He wasn’t feeling well—he even canceled two jams in a row. The next time we saw him, though, he downplayed the health issues. He’d seen his doctors and insisted he 188 Singing Higher 189 was his usual self. I tried to push my worries away and concentrate on the music. As it turned out, Danny wasn’t the only one who thought I should sing higher. Robert had told me the same thing. He went a step farther and offered me the name and number of a voice teacher he’d worked with. “Thanks,” I said. The slip of paper, like the idea itself, drifted out of sight. I did love the distinctive sound of traditional Cajun singing— high, piercing, bordering on nasal. A sound that carried over the noise of a dance, even in the days before amplification. Aside from this practical advantage, the traditional style was emotionally compelling . It was an arresting sound, when men pushed themselves to sing at the top of the range, the voice almost breaking, catching in a half cry. No wonder people sometimes called it “the heartbreak key.” But the suggestion to try singing higher myself was daunting— and puzzling. Even with a microphone, my voice didn’t always project as well as it should. At jams it was even more frustrating, like trying to sing underwater. Singing higher, I assumed, would involve even more strain. But I did start to sing higher—at first for practical reasons, after encountering a few tunes too low for my voice, at least with my customary C accordion. So I tried them with my D, and was surprised to discover the small shift, to a key just a step higher, made a big difference. I continued to experiment, and I found even more tunes that sounded clearer and stronger in the higher keys. One night at band practice I took out my D accordion, determined to see how far into this new territory I could push my voice. Song after song, I tested the waters in the higher keys—and it worked. It wasn’t just that my voice sounded better. I felt better—and very different , as though I had crossed a barrier and entered a new place, an unexplored terrain that until now I had just been circling. I felt light headed, free and floating. Then I noticed a strange vibration , almost a buzzing sensation, centered between my eyes and nose. My voice was starting to have an independent existence— carrying me along, instead of the other way around. I found myself singing, shaking...