SINGING IN THE STUDIO
Today I’m going to be singing in the studio. (That is, God willin’ and the crik don’t rise). It’s been raining relentlessly for about three days, and there’s a leak in the vocal booth, so I guess as long as I don’t stand in a puddle and touch the microphone at the same time, I’ll be alright.
I love singing. It’s really my oldest passion. When I was little, I used to listen to my mother’s records – Judy Garland, Sarah Vaughn, Doris Day – and my own records, like Disney’s “Alice In Wonderland” and I would sing along, imagining that I was singing not only the lead, but all the vocal harmonies as well. (I had a rich imagination). When I was a tiny little thing, I used to wake up long before the rest of the household, totter down the stairs to the spinet, and plunk out little tunes that I made up out of my head, singing at the top of my lungs. I don’t know how my family stood for it. My sisters used to complain, of course, but my parents, for some reason (maybe because they were up an extra flight of stairs above the kids’ rooms) used to just let me have at it.
By the time I was eight, I was ready for piano lessons. (My older sister was ready for lessons by the time she was three! I was clearly not in her league). I loved my piano teacher, who was kind of sweet and sour at the same time. Mr. Gross was a wonderful musician who taught sensitivity as much as he taught technique. I stayed with it longer than I might have with anyone else. But the truth is, all I really wanted to do on the piano was accompany myself so that I could sing.
I started taking voice lessons along with the piano lessons at an early age. Once again, I was willing to do whatever it took to make myself a good singer, so I made a great effort at singing in the “bel canto” style, learning arias and art songs. I was also taught to sing a la Julie Andrews with songs like, “I Could Have Danced All Night”. It gave me discipline, but I’m afraid, little else. I was never going to be an opera singer or a concert pianist.
I began writing songs while I was in college. Back then, I had so much teenage angst. Heartbroken love songs and what they refer to as “kiss-off” songs in Nashville were my specialty. I also had a kind of folksy flair, which made me sound like a cross between Joan Baez, Judy Collins and the not-so-folksy Laura Nyro (if you can imagine that). My songwriting was infused with the old influence of my classical training and exposure to “legit” musical comedy. I think I would have taken to country music, what with its story-telling element and its cry-in-your-beer love songs, at a very early age, except that my father hated country music and made fun of it, so it would have been sacrilege to bring it into the house.
In my twenties and thirties I made a living as a “chanteuse” singing top forty during cocktail hours and late nights in clubs (saloons). I was the pretty girl in the long dress at the piano with a brandy snifter atop the baby grand. I hated it. That’s what made me decide to learn to type. Anyway. . .
Much, much later – it took me until my early forties – I finally rediscovered country music. It was a total revelation to me. I was listening for the first time to a Reba McIntyre tape in my car, and I got the chills after about two measures. “Oh my God!” I said to myself, “This is the way I want to write!”
My husband and I wound up moving to Nashville in 1994, right after the Northridge earthquake here in Los Angeles. (I’ll tell you about the culture shock another time, but for now, just imagine going from restaurants that serve soy cappuccinos to restaurants that only serve Maxwell House coffee, and then extrapolate from there). We were in Nashville for six and a half years, and I learned a tremendous amount, not only about writing country music, but also about writing in general. The people were wonderful. The music business was what it always is, no matter where you go. (Sigh – also a conversation for another day).
Well, today I’m recording a scratch vocal (that means a guide vocal for another vocalist) for a country song that my sister and I wrote just before Art and I moved to Nashville. Wish me luck, and pray that I don’t step in a puddle and kiss the mic by mistake!
© 2005, Robin Munson