My Tenor Story: Part Two


A reassuring lie is so much easier to grasp than an inconvenient truth.  

I love how the cartoon below captures this idea.


Thanks to for the image
Thanks to for the image


What I hope you’re getting from the various posts I’ve done of late is this: we are all vulnerable to choosing the reassuring lie over the inconvenient truth.

We tell ourselves we want to stay true to our core beliefs. We have the courage of our convictions. We hang on to the identity we’ve constructed for ourselves.

Democrat, Republican, Independent

Good wife, upstanding citizen, smart person


I started this tack last August 3 with Blame it on the Oxytocin (with its magic spell), while watching the Republican National Convention.  I continued it after my week at music camp when one of my core beliefs (I am a tenor; it’s so obvious!) was challenged.

Throughout that week, I clung to my tenor identity. And, as it was being threatened, it rose to become the most important of my many roles, my many identities.

Having two world recognized voice coaches tell me I’m actually a soprano was unfathomable. Surely something was terribly amiss.

Here I am sandwiched between Canada’s Paula Rockwell and the UK’s Tim Brown.
See last week’s post for their credentials.

Photo compliments of Susan Martin Taylor.
Photo compliments of Susan Martin Taylor.


I fought them the whole week, in a friendly way, of course.

“I sound terrible,” I proclaimed. “I’m not making beautiful music.”

“But you will,” they countered. “You just need to get those muscles into shape.”


Later, at our evening sing, I sat in the soprano section only to discover I was singing the soprano part, but a full octave lower.  I moved back to my tenor tribe.

My tenor tribe.

I like my tenor tribe. I stayed there comfortably until Friday when I had two sessions with Paula and Tim.


Every once in a while, the sound I made was melodic. But oh, those intervening hours moments!


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


That night, at our evening sing, I moved in with the altos. I figured I’d take it slowly, move to soprano in smaller steps.

But again, I couldn’t make music.  Not the music I wanted to make. Not beautiful music.

My throat began to hurt, so I sat down and held a tearful pity party.  Will I ever make music again?

I’d been challenged to sing soprano. According to these experts, soprano is my natural range, just untrained. With training (not them; they are both from other countries) I could make more beautiful music than ever.

Why am I resisting this? I asked myself.

It’s too hard.

It’s damn inconvenient, too.

Usually, I embrace challenges.

My challenge for this fall is to learn Spanish in anticipation of a trip to Cuba I’m taking with one of my grandchildren this winter. I didn’t need a second challenge! 



It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself. Muhammad Ali.

That’s right. I wasn’t sure I could handle TWO challenges at one time.  But what is a challenge if not something that presents a, well, a challenge?

Then I remembered: it was exactly 50 years ago this week that my swimming instructor at another summer camp told me I wasn’t going to be able to complete his life savings certification course. He told me I wasn’t a strong enough swimmer. He said I wasn’t capable enough.

I showed him!

I rose to the challenge and the lesson I learned, the exhilaration I felt from that experience, has served me well throughout my life.

There is something inherently rewarding about meeting a challenge head on and conquering it.

(That life guard certification also helped me hook my first husband, but that’s another story.)


Today, 50 years later, I find this tenor/soprano challenge is of a different sort.  No one is telling me I can’t sing (either one). I think if they did, I’d be more inclined to take the bait. Instead, they are telling me I can. Their position is that singing soprano will, eventually, result in a better sound then I’ve ever made as a tenor and in a healthier set of vocal cords. But it’ll be like learning to walk again. Or speak.

I’ll have to pay attention to things I’ve come to take for granted.
Things I’ve done automatically will now need to be attended to.  And I’ll need to practice.

I’m the one saying I can’t. I’m the one saying I don’t want to. I’m the one saying, it’s too much trouble. No one else is telling me that. 

I just want to sing. Comfortably. I want to make beautiful music for myself in my car and for a few of my grandchildren when we visit. And I certainly want to sing well for those I sing to in the hospice choir.

What do I do?

How about you? Do you recognize challenges when they present themselves? How do you decide whether to embrace them or to run walk away from them?  

Next week: A final look at My Tenor Story and my take-away.


12 Responses

  1. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    What are you winding yourself up for? The matter is actually very simple: Do You want to make beautiful music and sing as a soprano?
    If so you CAN do it. The experts have already told you this. All you have to decide is whether you want to and then put in all the practice necessary to do so..
    If you are content to sing as a tenor, and can sing well, in tune and tempo, is that enough to satisfy your cantorial ambitions? If it is, then stop fussing and just get on with enjoying singing in what feel the most natural way to you, regardless of the register. I’m sure your choir will welcome you whatever you choose. 🙂

  2. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I agree with Ian. If you had never been to this camp and had experts tell you that you’re actually a soprano, you would still be singing tenor happily and without any problems. Have you ever had voice training before? Because I’m wondering why no one ever mentioned this before. If you do pursue voice training, make certain that you have a voice instructor who knows what he/she is doing. There are many who don’t, and they can wreck your voice. If you go through with this, you’ll be able to sing soprano–and I guess you have the range then to also sing alto and tenor!
    Good luck with all of your challenges! It’s life–I’m sure you’ll have more. 🙂

  3. Susan Joyce
    | Reply

    I say ENJOY singing. Regardless.

  4. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — No matter what you decide, the point of singing (at least in my experience) is twofold:
    (1) to have FUN
    (2) to bring JOY to other people

    Tenor, soprano, or somewhere in-between… choose the one that accomplishes them both.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      There is an image I was going to use in next week’s post, but it didn’t make the cut. It says, essentially, “We don’t grow when things are easy; we grow when we face challenges.” That’s what I’m into at the moment. And, actually, it’s fun. Thanks for getting me to realize that, Laurie.

  5. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply

    Great questions. But I’m with everybody else. Just decide how you want to sing and enjoy each note whether it be tenor or soprano. Life is short. Do what makes you happy!

  6. Val
    | Reply

    I recall when I had my own inner struggle with how I saw myself. In the despair and inner struggle, something opened up in me that needed to be recognized and then shared for the benefit of others. What I thought of as weakness turned into my greatest strength, and gift.
    Perhaps this obstacle is there to show you your way Janet.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I do think we grow only when we stretch (unless you are a child, in which case I tell them it’s when they sleep). At least that’s how I’m looking at this one, Val. Thanks so much for commenting.

  7. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    My 7th grader was introduced to Plato’s allegory of the cave yesterday at school, in which Plato depicts a group of prisoners chained inside a cave, facing a blank wall. There is a fire behind them, and various figures pass between the fire and the wall, projecting shadows. The prisoners can only see the shadows, which come to make up their reality. Plato saw the philosopher as a freed prisoner, able to see true reality. Your post brings this allegory to mind, as we all undoubtedly shape our realities, our perspectives and world views, on finite information, influences, and experiences, yet we come to trust these things, which become deeply ingrained. Thanks for holding up a lens to your own experience so that we might all take a moment to reflect on our own. Best regards! T

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Tim, I’m so impressed that your daughter is getting The Cave in 7th grade. I didn’t learn of it until graduate school. My second graduate school too. It is a powerful allegory and I’m quite flattered you compared my post to it. I love your last sentence especially. You have captured what I try to do here week after week. And so it goes.

  8. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    As most of you know, I’m en route home at the moment and have been without WiFi for the past few days. But I couldn’t let any more time go by without thanking you all for commenting on my post. So, tonight I took advantage of the hotel’s WiFi to check in and say Thanks. I’ll respond more personally once I get settled back home.

  9. […] His name was Gary and we sat together in the tenor section at Ogontz music camp last year. This was before I was outed as a closet soprano, which I wrote about in “My Tenor Story, Part I” and “My Tenor Story, Part II.” […]

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