Please forgive this self-indulgent post. I don’t often talk about my childhood because-
1. I don’t remember most of it
2. Nobody cares.
But I’m trying to work out some artistic self-identification and this helps.
When I was a wee lass growing up in the suburbs of Dallas, music was very much a part of my life. We had a piano. My sister and I were in the city children’s choir. I did choir at school. My family would sing hymns together. My mom was an excellent singer- she had a record of her college choir singing southern gospel music and I would listen to it over and over on my Michael Jackson record player (note- it had a microphone and you could sing to the records! Which I often loudly did on our front porch). My dad was a lovely pianist and guitar player. He was in a band before he met my mom and I recall his vast record collection on our wood slat entertainment hutch with clarity- Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Jim Croce, Cat Stephens. He would play “A Time for Us” on piano from Romeo and Juliet for my mom and I thought it was the most beautiful song I’d ever heard. My mom was a huge fan of James Taylor and one time my dad called into the local radio station and won her every tape of his and tickets to see him in concert. To say I knew all the lyrics to Copperline is an understatement.
My older sister was considered the artist and the smart one. She practiced piano and methodically worked her way through each piece. I was content to watch her play for a bit, then sit down and run through the music as quickly as humanly possible, pounding out Für Elise in 20 seconds flat. I could and do sight read quite well, but remember laying on our trampoline with our “Treasury of Best Loved Songs” music book (on my shelf to this day) and going page by page, making up tunes to all the words. My rendition of Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man must have been one of the odder choices in music history. My sister learned calligraphy and I wasn’t far behind, attempting to imitate her swirls and curls. She painted and was an excellent drawer- that, I unfortunately couldn’t replicate, though I tried. We both sang, but I started to be singled out more for my voice at home and at school. My mom would force me to sing for my grandparents and I’d cringe but do it anyways. At one elementary school assembly, there was dead space after the announcements and the principal asked if anyone had any talent to share in front of the school. My heart beat faster and my palms began to sweat as my classmates started chanting my name, urging me to get up there and sing. Instead of granting them their wish, I did some gymnastics, because that’s what I actually cared about at the time.
We watched The Simpsons growing up and I remember imitating Chief Wiggum’s voice after one episode and realizing I could sound just like him. I began doing voices and accents and making up different personalities. I was a huge fan of The Judds and could sing alongside Wynonna’s every lick and slide. One of my more outrageous imitations was of Des’ree’s “I’m kissing You” from Romeo + Juliet, a film I watched far too often and listened to the soundtrack until it could play no more. Every Saturday found me planted in front of SNL, resulting in my youth group friends and I reenacting every Will Ferrel/Cheri O’Teri skit until the rest of the youth group got tired of watching us.
This skill for imitation served me well in high school, when I was the first student to make it to Texas All State in 17 years. I worked incredibly hard at it, but I’m sure the fact that I could imitate the taped sample voice of our enormously difficult piece by Bach gave me an edge. I did well in French because I could pronounce and mimic all the inflections and tonal dips that I heard spoken. It continued through my high school and college years in acting- using the same facial reactions and pauses and inflections I had seen in performances I admired. It got me cast and I did a pretty good job.
Now that I’m well into my 30’s and acting full time, I’ve spent a lot of time in class and alone with my thoughts analyzing my abilities as a creative. How did I get into this career in the first place? Was it skill or luck or love of the craft? Did I just fall into it because so many encouraged me to it or did I, deep down within me, ache to do it? On a further note, what do I have to offer as a creative? What is my unique voice- in singing, acting, comedy, writing? I’ve spent so long being a mimic I’m not entirely sure what my voice is. This summer begins my quest to find out. I hope you’ll follow along with me in this self discovery, and maybe find some things out about yourself along the way.