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How my singing career hit a flat note before it even began

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Posted: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 12:00 am

"You should be on Broadway," said Professor Nichols, as I walked off the stage at Montgomery College in Takoma Park, Md.

I had just finished singing Rogers and Hammerstein's "The Sweetest Sounds" for a sophomore recital.

I thought the chair of the performing arts department was joking. The curly brown-haired lady in her 50s continued: "I have connections," she boasted. "I'm going to make some phone calls."

Never thought much about a stage career. I was a music major because I liked music, not performance. It's true that in the 6th grade, I once wowed my classmates with an Elvis impersonation. Then there was that medley of Andy Williams' tunes, sung in duet with a one-arm girl named Claudia. Oh yes, I also played a gospel singer in a high school production of "Finian's Rainbow."

But that was about it.

I put Professor Nichols' comments aside until a few weeks later, when I got a letter from Elwood Emerick Management. An audition had been scheduled for May 8 in New Jersey. I couldn't believe my eyes!

I knew "The Sweetest Sounds" backwards and forwards. I was ready for the big time … or was I?

My fellow students wished me well. My parents were in the same state of disbelief that I was.

Dad said he would drive me from our D.C. suburban home to the New Jersey theatre. It was a beautiful spring day. Nightfall would not come until late that evening.

As each mile passed, I grew wearier about the situation. I looked at my father. He was somewhat talkative, and I could sense his excitement. My anxiety began to surface. There were lots of people rooting for me. I wasn't sure I could handle the emotional responsibility if I disappointed them.

We arrived at our destination. It was an older theatre with lights on the stage. The audience section was shrouded in darkness. Voices from the shadows were giving direction to those who preceded me. Then the call came: "STEVE HANSEN."

I walked onto the stage. I was as numb as if I had swallowed a prescription of the painkiller OxyContin.

The orchestra, in A minor, played my introduction. My baritone voice began: "The sweetest sounds I'll ever hear are still inside my head. The kindest words I'll ever know, are waiting to be said." I felt from the darkness, a positive impression was being made. Then strangely, for the first time, I started thinking about the meaning of the line: "The most entrancing sight of all, is yet for me to see."

At that point, I looked at the spotlight in bewilderment and froze. The orchestra stopped. Silence embraced the theatre. From the blackened fifth row, a voice boomed out: "That's all. Thank you." The death knell had sounded for my musical career.

On the way home, my father never said a word. I could read the disappointment in his face. I had let down a lot of people, but the words of the song spoke to me: "The most entrancing sight of all, is yet for me to see."

I had come to the realization that the stage of make-believe was not for me. Other things, more in sync with my personality style, would surely be in the future.

On that day, I saw aspiring performers breathing, living and speaking musical theatre. Their souls were wrapped in what they did. That was not I. Discovering other fields of endeavor would be my quest.

During the summer, I transferred to the University of the Pacific. Other performing arts students wished me well with some degree of envy — thinking that "Pacific" meant I would be surfing every day.

And so, a new venture began. This time, on the other side of the continent — with no looking back and with no regrets.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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