Everyone, as a child, had a dream career that they aspired to. Some kids practiced soccer against the side of the house everyday, some kids dressed up as doctors and performed surgeries on their dolls, and some kids painted pictures that would be added to their gallery of artwork on the refrigerator door. Whatever the dream job was, almost all kids would probably be able to give a definitive answer without hesitation when asked the question,”What do you want to be when you grow up?” For me, like all other young children, my dream job changed quite frequently. I went from writer to actress to professional athlete to gymnast, to basically any other career that children would have deemed “cool”. But one dream job that stuck with me through all the other phases of career paths I had in mind for myself was singing.
I dreamt and hoped to be able to belt out songs up on a stage or in a recording booth. Unfortunately, being a singer simply was not in the cards for me. In fact, I am probably one of the worst singers you will ever hear. That is, if you ever heard me sing which is unlikely considering the fact that I tend to shy away from subjecting myself to such an embarrassment as singing in front of an audience other than my shower. But my lack of musical talent doesn’t stop me from wishing that I could be a singer, or even just be good at singing. And it certainly doesn’t stop me from wondering why one person can be brilliant at belting out any song, while someone else, like me, is incapable of differentiating one note from another note when attempting to sing.
Although I have always pondered over the ingredients needed to make a singer, my school’s recent production of Legally Blonde really got me thinking about it. Of course, my opinion is subjective because I go to Quince Orchard, but I strongly believe that QO has some of the most talented singers and performers that I have ever seen or heard. I envy and respect their abilities to get on stage in front of hundreds of people to sing and dance. Aside from the enormous amount of talent that takes, I think they also deserve credit for the courage it takes to do something like that. And once again I ask why do they have those talents? Not that they are not deserving of them, but because I genuinely wonder why certain people are gifted with musical abilities and certain people aren’t.
There has been much argument over whether a good voice is an inherited or a learned trait, or in other words, do you have to be born with a good voice or can you take lessons and become a good singer? In an article by Al Kohen, called, “Are Good Singers ‘Born With It’?” Kohen says that while some people do inherit the natural ability to sing well, it is actually a learned trait. Vocal lessons, practice, and dedication from a young age can mold someone into a talented singer. He says that there are several “excuses” that people make which prevent them from becoming the singers that they do have the option to become. Most have to do with the lack of self-confidence and a disbelief in the fact that a good singing voice is attainable, even if you are not born with it. “If you possess normal, healthy vocal equipment, can learn to be an outgoing, charismatic person who is not afraid to share feelings and emotions with strangers, don't mind working and studying to improve your singing...you can become a good singer,” says Kohen.
Another source that, like me, has questioned whether singing ability is an inherited or learned trait is Professor Graham F. Welch from the Institute of Education at the University of London. Welch’s research argues both sides of the case, first stating that everyone, when born, possesses the parts of the body that are responsible for singing. These parts include the lungs, diaphragm, velum, vocal tract, larynx, abdominal muscles, and many parts of the brain. This research implies that everyone starts out on an even playing field and can decide if they want to practice singing and build these parts of the body to become better singers, or not. Welch’s research also indicates that musical ability develops over time and that young kids are more likely to be considered “tone deaf” than pre teenagers and adolescents who have had more time to develop their voices. Welch shares the results of an experiment he conducted to determine the difference in tone deaf children from age 7 to age 11. He found that in 7 year olds, about 40% of boys and 20% of girls sang out of tune, while in 11 year olds, only about 5% of boys and 2% of girls sang out of tune. These dramatic differences further prove Kohen’s opinion that singing is, in fact, a learned trait.
But Welch also considers the opposing side. He says that prosodic and melodic features of a mother’s voice are actually passed down to her unborn child during pregnancy. Welch also says that, “Development of voice is gendered, linked to female vocalization and the symbiotic interweaving of singing and emotions.” So, in short, a good singing voice is passed down from mother to child.
So I suppose that we are still left with the questions as to how some people are better singers than others. Personally, I think that while everyone has the potential to learn how to sing, no one can really be an amazing singer without that special something; that “it factor” that I believe some people are just born with. I guess I will never know if I would have or could have been musically talented, had I taken the time to practice and develop my voice as a child. But I’m quite certain that I would have never been as good as the students at QO who are members of the theater department, no matter how much practice I put into it. For now, I will just have to be content with the talents I do have, and with where my place is in my high school’s auditorium: watching with envy and support from a seat in the audience. And for those of you who I have left with a craving to hear some truly impressive singers and watch an extremely entertaining show, feel free to attend QO’s production of Legally Blonde this Friday and Saturday at 7 pm, or this Saturday at 2 pm.