Singing to the Stars
When I was little I would lean out the window of our second floor Mexico City home and sing to the stars. I would make up my little melodies as the evening lingered on with my little brother joining me in my serenade to the “little lights up in the sky.” Even though my little brother could not sing on key, we continued our singing to the celestial bodies every night. Sometimes during the day if we happened upon a rainbow, we would sing to the rainbow as well. A detail which puzzled some young American kids that we visited once, prompting them to ask me “Why do you sing all the time?” Leaving me feeling quite startled. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else but sing. Especially when coming across a beautiful rainbow on a nice sunny day. So my brother and I continued our nightly singing with my mother sitting and listening in amazement while reading a book.
As all good things bring it upon themselves to do, in a way which is most devastating to the human experience, they end. Shortly before my tenth birthday, we moved back to the USA, permanently halting my Mexico City evening reverie with the stars.
A few years after that major life change, while we were driving through a rural part of Georgia one night, my brother suddenly started singing. Stunned, my mother turned to me and asked if he was on key . . . he was. Making my mother celebrate with much excitement, since her own lifetime dream had been to one day be able to sing on key. Little did I know, for many years that one nighttime drive would mark a death sentence for me and my voice.
Being a very education minded and devoted mother, I was fortunate when she went out of her way despite our destitute circumstances to get me voice lessons at my request. I was in my senior year of high school and I was begging her for them. Somehow, even though I was no longer a little girl singing to the stars in Mexico City, I had this overwhelming inner desire to sing. And not just sing in the popular sense, but to really sing with the beautiful pure tones of classical vocal technique. My brother joined in on the voice lessons. And while our voice teacher struggled with me some, she really shone with my brother’s voice. Bringing out the lyric quality in his voice while actually giving mine a little bit of harshness as I struggled with how to keep the “ee” vowel sound all throughout my upper and lower registers.
My brother was a very masculine young man with inherent leadership qualities. Whenever he would hush me up at home, or anywhere else I would sing, other people followed his lead. It was completely devastating for me. Resulting in my already somewhat fragile self-esteem plummeting to the depths of the ocean floor. Yet, somehow in a way for which I have no explanation, my desire to sing remained fervent. Leading me to practice my singing in secret whenever I was home alone. At which time I would brave the silence in the hopes that my brother’s absence would be prolonged and sing along to my Charlotte Church cds. Progressing from her to Maev from Celtic Woman, Deanna Durbin, Maria Callas, Cecilia Bartoli, and Kiri Te Kanawa.
Having survived several natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, and Tuscaloosa tornadoes-I knew that surviving against all odds was possible. But nothing, not even these natural disasters, made me feel like the walls were closing in on me as much as this shunning of my singing voice did. Once, while we were in Ohio, my mother decided to record some of my grandfather’s compositions as a gift for him. I was the designated singer much to his chagrin. My brother was my grandfather’s first and only choice, he was busy with his own ventures and not available. So I filled in the gap at my mother’s command with my grandfather ranting and raving the entire time about my singing. He carried on with his complaints so much, that at one point the sound engineer pulled me to the side and told me how much he just “loved my voice.” It was a sincere and noble gesture on his part. But by this point I simply had no self-esteem where my singing was concerned and I found myself quite puzzled by his kind gesture.
Throughout the years, my brother remained as unrelenting as ever. The day before an important audition I was fortunate enough to be granted, I made the mistake of warming up my voice. Resulting in him banishing me to the outside during a rainstorm complete with thunderclaps and lightning. Undaunted, I practiced “The Trees On The Mountain” from Susannahin the car while struggling to hear the melody in-between the loud thunderclaps that were constantly clanging. As I looked out of the car window through the heavy raindrops that made the view decidedly blurry, I found myself hoping that fate would spare me from being struck by the lightning that was flashing all around me.
Many times, my mother unwittingly played right into my brother’s hands. And one time while we were driving back from a family wedding in Tennessee, I found myself carried away by my zeal for singing and unconsciously began singing along with my brother. True to form, he right away opposed my joining him in song. And since it had been awhile since he had been around, my mother stated that she had been waiting a long time to hear him sing again. Rendering my singing voice silent, yet again. When we finally arrived home to our apartment, my mother commented on how quiet I had been. My brother merely laughed.
With a determination that must have stemmed from my childhood singing days, I began entering some vocal competitions and continued working on improving my classical vocal technique. Different competition judges described my voice as “beautiful” with a quality that “harkens back to the Golden Age for singing.” And in a rare moment, I even had the opportunity to sing “Vissi d’Arte” from Toscaat the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall, as the winner of the classical division of the 2012 Golden Voices of America International Vocal Competition. Thrilled with this vocal victory of mine, my devoted mother came to hear me sing. While my brother refused to even consider the frightful notion. Thankfully, we met a lovely lady in the deli where we ate before the recital, and I gave her the extra ticket my brother had most vehemently and forcefully turned down. Although we had just met, this lovely lady actually went through the trouble to come with her niece and really enjoyed the performance.
Afterwards, we moved back to Tuscaloosa, Alabama and I continued my vocal studies with a retired university opera professor. Hearing a beauty in my voice that I didn’t even know existed, he trained me with the focus of bringing out this unknown really magnetic aspect of my singing. He pointed out to me that because of my nervousness and a need to prove myself in voice, I was forcing the sound outwards instead of letting it simply flow with the natural oval shaping required for classical singing. Once I learned to relax and not let the past consume me, I delighted in the beautiful free tone that I was able to achieve. I realized that it was actually pure and more like my early childhood singing voice than what I had been using. The voice that I had, so many years prior, used to sing to the stars.
Encouraged by this rediscovery of my original voice, I began singing in public more and more. With people exclaiming over my “perfect” renditions of the National Anthem and begging me to sing the classic Irish ballad “Oh Danny Boy” for them. My naysaying brother graduated from college and moved far away, becoming so distant both emotionally and physically that it was hard to recall he had ever featured prominently in my life. My maternal grandfather eventually grew to appreciate my voice, although, he still had moments when his demeaning comments resurfaced. Nonetheless, shortly before he passed away, he mentioned to the nurse in the hospital how he had a granddaughter who sang. And slowly the pieces of my fragile vocal self-esteem that had been crushed, crumbled, shattered, and scattered all over time and place, began coming together. Leading me to fondly recollect, despite my no longer residing in Mexico City, my early childhood love for the stars while I sing.
-Luisa Kay Reyes
Luisa Kay Reyes has had pieces featured in "The Raven Chronicles", "The Windmill", "The Foliate Oak", "The Eastern Iowa Review", and other literary magazines. Her essay, "Thank You", is the winner of the April 2017 memoir contest of "The Dead Mule School Of Southern Literature". And her Christmas poem was a first place winner in the 16th Annual Stark County District Library Poetry Contest. Additionally, her essay "My Border Crossing" received a Pushcart Prize nomination from the Port Yonder Press. And two of her essays have been nominated for the "Best of the Net" anthology. With one of her essays recently being featured on "The Dirty Spoon" radio hour.