In Praise of Bad Singing


Written By: Suzanne Bouffard

I forgot how much I liked to sing until my son was born. I sang as a teenager, and although I never had soloist potential, I held my own in the audition-only chorus and had the lead in the school musical. But when I started college and stopped singing, something happened that was akin to a former athlete losing her muscle tone: I completely lost my sense of pitch, and with it my confidence and my willingness to sing, even in the shower.

But then my son was born, and I started singing to him constantly – in the morning when he’s on the changing table, while I eat breakfast and he rocks out in his baby swing, when I’m trying to put him to sleep. I sing to him because he loves it. He doesn’t care if I’m on key (I’m often not), and he doesn’t know if I’m making the words up as I go along (I usually am).  

This may not sound like a big deal, but as a performing artist, it’s a big mental shift. My creative self is used to having an audience and/or collaborators. As a dancer, what really moves me is making connections with other people, whether they’re creating original material on stage with me or witnessing it from the audience. The highest compliments I’ve ever received were when people told me that my performances inspired them to find or expand their own creative selves. These kinds of connections are intoxicating and addictive, and they are a great motivation for art. However….

The mental shift

When you’re used to this motivation, and to the kind of feedback it provides, it’s easy to lose sight of how fun, fulfilling, sustaining, and empowering art and creativity are for their own sake, and for us as individuals. It’s easy to get caught up in the highs of performing for an audience, in the search of the next gig, in the pressure to produce. Most of us have some reluctance or fear of creating simply for ourselves, of playing in new media and new venues. We fear – often legitimately – that an outside observer would consider our singing simply awful or our decoupage déclassé. For a professional artist, whose goal is to create “good” or at least “meaningful” art, this can be particularly acute. And potentially dangerous, because it can limit our creative potential to the media in which we are most comfortable and most successful.

Creativity for its own sake and for our own selves can nurture us and our art. Play is essential to creativity, and sometimes we need to play outside our usual games and color outside our usual lines. Singing off key helps us see and experience things that inform our other art. It helps us to feel free and joyful and to experience creativity in the unencumbered way that becomes so elusive once we consider ourselves Artists with a capital A.

At the very least, it’s fun -- something my infant son already knows, and instinctively appreciates more than I do. Bless him for encouraging my singing with that charming little smile of his, and bless the neighbors for not complaining. I’ll try to return the favor whenever I see the opportunity. Suggestions about how to pay it forward – and keep cashing it in for ourselves -- are welcome.

What about you? Is there a craft or artistic endeavor you've lost sight of? Are there other areas of your life where you're afraid of being "off key?" Altogether now...

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