by Miriam Queensen
I took up drumming at age 50 (Confessions of a 54-year-old Rocker) and I love every minute of playing all kinds of music. I also sing backup.
Singing backup vocals from the drum kit has its own challenges: remembering lyrics while making complicated rhythms, listening carefully to the lead singer, and not knocking out my teeth when I get close to the mic.
People at “Rock Camp for Dads” (where I have most of my music adventures) tell me I do a good job with vocals. I always enjoy singing, mostly in my car, but I’m nervous singing in public unless I can hide in the harmonies behind the lead singer and musicians.
Somehow I got it in my head that I wanted to stand out in front, singing backup vocals only, no longer hiding behind the cymbals that separate me from the audience.
Did I want more attention? Maybe.
Playing the drums is noisy, but not super visible. But being up front means worrying about all kinds of new things: what to wear, what to do with my hands, remembering lots of lyrics, and of course – learning how to sing out loud and strong!
Memorizing the lyrics and listening to the songs a million times to figure out the backup lines is not the hardest part. My band for this singing experiment is performing the songs of George Michael, which I’ve always loved, so that’s not too tough.
Getting over my anxiety about singing in public is a lot harder. Rehearsals aren’t too bad, since I know the nice folks in the band and everyone is really supportive.
I do have to work on increasing my volume and learning to move a bit and let loose. It helps that I have a tambourine – it gives my hands something to do!
But I’m constantly worrying about everybody looking at me. Part of me wants that attention, but part of me is afraid to get it. (Am I alone in this?)
My confidence about my appearance has never been strong, and I wish that getting older meant overcoming that insecurity. I’m happy I found a dress that looks pretty good on me and suits the occasion.
However, stepping up on the stage, I’m self-conscious standing up front, knowing that everybody is looking at me AND listening to me.
My glasses purposely left in my purse, I attempt to avoid thinking about everyone watching me.
So I step up on stage, at first busying myself with setting my water bottle in the mic stand, adjusting the mic height, smiling nervously at my fellow singers and musicians.
Then I dare turn and look out at the crowd in the bar.
The audience is a big blur! I’m unaware of individuals staring at me, although I can hear them and know they’re out there. Not wearing my glasses feels weird though, making the entire experience seem unreal. It’s like I’m on cold medicine; I feel a little out of it. Next time maybe I’ll be brave and keep the glasses on.
I enjoy singing harmony with other people, and I love the feeling of hearing our voices together. That’s when I’m most confident.
Reminding myself to keep smiling and looking out at the blurry crowd, I suddenly know it’s time for my solo!
Automatic pilot is my friend, but only to some extent -- I hear myself flub an entire line of lyrics, substituting the words from a different part of the song. Hopefully nobody outside of the band notices.
I get through it! When we start singing the last song together, I finally feel a surge of relief and sense of accomplishment.
When I watch the video after the gig is over, it’s not terrible. I don’t sound too bad in some places, though I’m not crazy about how I sound in others. The important thing is that I appear to be fully engaged in the moment. I smile, I look at the other singers, I play my tambourine, I move around.
My biggest fear was that I would stand there frozen like a block of ice. That didn’t happen! So while I may not be either Gwen Stefani or Janis Joplin, at least I faced my fear and tried it!
I did something scary and new! That’s what life is all about. Do the things you want to do, while you still can. If not now, when?
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