My Tenor Story: Part Three


What did I write at the beginning of August?  I started with Weltschmerz, that state of sadness and depression when the world is not as we think it should be. Its literal translation from the German is “world pain.”

Thanks to for the image.
Thanks to for the image.

I wrote about how tenaciously we can cling to a belief — faulty, misguided, or just plain stupid — when it’s what we hang a piece of our identity on.  The veracity of the belief is not nearly as important to us as its utility is.

In such cases, facts don’t change our minds, they actually anchor us even more tightly to our original (mistaken) belief. It’s called the Backfire Effect.  I didn’t mention the term, but I wrote about it nevertheless, couching it, for humor’s sake, in terms of the hormone oxytocin.

Perhaps I didn’t take it seriously enough. . .

Back to My Tenor Story. And my take-away.

Part Three

The problem for me was not the time it would take to become a performing soprano, though it would. It was not even that I’d miss the tenors I get to sit with, though I would. While those were both true, they were not the real obstacle. Here’s what it boiled down to.  There were two things. First:

If I were mistaken in THAT identity, how many of my other identities were now suspect?

Am I actually a Libertarian?  A Republican? 

What can I trust? (My need for oxytocin — the trust hormone — was great)

Everything became, temporarily at least, a bit shaky for me.

My anterior cingulate cortex kicked up a storm.

But that was not all. Worse, as Paula and Tim continued to work with me, getting me to sing higher and higher, I kept channelling Florence Foster Jenkins — oh no! — the title character in the new Meryl Streep movie.



How embarrassing!

Here’s the trailer to the movie. I really must see the movie.  I’ve still only seen the trailer.

This was the sound I feared I was making. And while I’d agree with the film’s tag line, “every voice deserves to be heard,” I could not get those scenes out of my head.

I wish I could play you a clip from the sessions I had with Paula and Tim.  Unfortunately, I’ve not yet conquered the iMovie app. Or, make that fortunately.

However, a lengthy journaling session that Saturday morning, my last day, left me committed to trying soprano out for the next four months.


I’ll keep you posted, maybe.

Nah; probably not.


I thank you for staying with me through my “trans-sectional” confusion over three posts. I wrote the bare bones of the story the day after I returned home. It turned out to be 1500 words, far too long for a single post.

Dividing that story as I did freed me to focus on clearing out the Chincoteague house and dealing with Sasha’s torn ACL: two unexpected challenges that fell into my world during that unplugged week at music camp, each one far outweighing the still real (but more fun, to be sure) challenge of adding soprano to my list of identities.

How about you?  How do you decide which challenges to take on and which to walk run away from? 



Next week: My take on “Have a good day.”

19 Responses

  1. Frank Moore
    | Reply

    “Challenges make life interesting ….”, but perhaps it’s too many or very big, overwhelming ones that led to the purported “Chinese curse” — May you live in interesting times.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks Frank. You certainly speak from a place of major challenges in your own life. May you live in interesting times, yourself.

  2. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    I love that you’re giving it a four month commitment. That window of time will prove informative to YOU — the one person whose opinion really matters.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks, Laurie. Yes, four months will get me through the first concert of our North Country Chorus. That’s enough time to tell.

  3. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply

    Oh my gosh, Janet, I loved Florence Foster Jenkins. Super story! I will say once again, do what is most comfortable for you! Life is too short to spend too much time worrying about such things!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Joan (greetings from Canada, where I’ve been off line all day so my rates don’t go sky high). I’d just seen that blasted trailer for the movie the week before that summer camp and those scenes of her screeching and of those around her encouraging her just kept running through my head. It was a bit of a curse actually. Really made it harder for me to believe the people telling me I had a great sound when all I could hear was Florence’s voice. I’ve got my eye out for that movie when it comes to town; probably a good six months from now. Thanks for the recommendation. “Every voice deserves to be heard.”

  4. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Cliff and I saw the Florence Foster Jenkins film – so like my plain mother’s story without the glitz or the need to perform. I’d never believe so many strove to perpetuate FFJ’s illusions except that the movie (so they say) is based on truth.

    Life is steering me in strange directions now, some of which I have no control over. As long as I can write every single day, I’ve decided I have no choice but to “just go with it,” my best option

    Remember Sonny’s quote from the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: “In India, we have a saying: ‘Everything will be all right in the end.’ So if it’s not all right, it is not yet the end.”

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hello Marian. I too had a hard time believing so many loved her so. I’m eager to see the movie. Of course Meryl Streep makes anyone come alive.

      I love that quote you gave. “If it’s not all right, it’s not yet the end.” Indeed. Hope.

      And let me add another thank you here for linking to last week’s post on your own blog today. I’m only sorry it came out as I was leaving town. I’ll be over there shortly to Comment.

  5. Susan Joyce
    | Reply

    Somehow the movie trailer reminded me of the expression “the opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings. … Yogi Berra, also credited with “It ain’t over till it’s over” and “90% of the game is one half mental”. Would love to see a trailer of you singing your hear out in four months. Good for you! Facing the challenge.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Well, that’ll give me four months to try and figure out how to make a separate clip of a video in iMovie. Someone told me recently that the best way to keep my mind sharp as my body ages is to learn something new. My mind will be a two-edged sword at this rate. Thanks for weighing in, Susan. Always good to have you.

  6. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I’ve seen the trailer for months, but I haven’t seen the movie yet either. Too many movies, too little time. 🙂
    I agree with the others that four months of training should give you an idea, but on the other hand, unless it’s actually hurting your voice, what difference does it make if you sing tenor–if that’s what you want to do?

    Hope all goes well with Sacha. Poor puppy. 🙁

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You ask an important question, Merril. I wish I could answer it. It’s kind of how I look back on my decision to go into Peace Corps. Why didn’t I just say no? I left so much that I loved, yet I kept moving forward. I seem to do that; just keep going forward; keep saying Yes as things come my way. I think I’ll journal a bit about the last time I said No to something. Hmmmm. Interesting.

  7. Cynthia DeKett
    | Reply

    I love the overarching message in this post – that challenges are what stretch us into growth. As for identifying with a particular part…YOU are not the voice that gets labeled soprano or tenor; YOU are someone who loves to sing. Let ‘er rip! Happy to have you up in the rafters with me, Janet!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks, Cynthia.

      For the grandmothers (and grandfathers) who read this, Cynthia is the author of the Emrysea (three sisters), children’s fantasy series that my granddaughter refers to as “the best books I’ve ever read” And Bella has read all the Harry Potter and all the Hunger Games plus a whole lot more. The kid is a walking, talking reading machine. Here’s the link

      She writes as C A Morgan

  8. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Please do let us know how the great soprano experiment turns out. While I know the result is ultimately less important than the journey, I would still be interested in your reflections after-the-fact :).

    As for me, I have a tendency toward being a “jack of all trades, master of none,” which has allowed me to explore many interests (on the one hand), but also left me, well . . . mediocre at many things. To an extent, this is simply who I am, and I know that I could never be a maestro at any one thing requiring 100% commitment at the expense of other interests. At the same time, I’ve slowly learned that, in order to develop some skill and complete some larger scale projects, I have to set some things aside and simply focus on a few that are manageable. For me, right now, that involves working on a large writing project, taking care of my garden, and doing volunteer work at my daughters’ school. The rest will mostly have to wait, for now.

  9. […] few weeks since our Chincoteague home went belly up (and with it our plan to pay our debts); my identity as a tenor was shaken; and Sasha tore her ACL.  All First World Problems, to be sure, but still unsettling, […]

    | Reply

    I am a tenor. That is the identity I choose to keep. I really am an alto. Soprano was completely out of the question. I love singing tenor. I love the people in my section. I love the low harmonies. And, if I really admit it to myself, I love challenging the gender barrier. It helps that my father was a tenor and that my daughter is a tenor in our group. ( If you hit the “news” tab there are videos of us) I loved your story. It gave me a real insight into why I am still sitting with the boys.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hello Gael, and welcome. Thanks for stopping by and thank you very much for adding your website URL. I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment in the video — there is power, magic even, in being part of that vibrating chord. I too love the inside lines and find I do better at alto in the large chorus we’re in (North Country Chorus) but sing soprano in the smaller hospice choir. And soprano is getting fun. If you are ever looking for a choral music camp in New England, I would recommend Ogantz — the one I spoke of in the post. This year the choral camp is in late July.
      Janet Givens recently posted…When Memory Fades: Another “50 Years Ago” StoryMy Profile

      • Gael Gisvold Mueller
        | Reply

        Thank you! I will look up the camp. It’s a bit of a drive from California 🙃 But I would love to go!

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