Sing when someone’s listening

I was thinking today about how much I miss driving. I wasn’t quite sure why at first. I suppose, no more than the rest of us, I have lockdownitis.

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But no, it’s more than that. The car is where I sing. It’s where I turn on my favourite playlists and shamelessly belt out the lyrics. Today I got the chance. In the car with my daughter, Eminem and I could be heard blasting “his palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy”.

That was when I got a dart of a look from the teenager, signalling me to stop, eye roll included free of charge. Singing is good for the soul, I explained to her. But I wondered, why the car? It seems this is my sanctuary, my place to get lost and imagine. The place I am most likely to be on my own. And there it was. Such outward expressions of emotion, confidence, performance, can be difficult in front of others. Safe is best, not exposed.

Could it be that, as human beings, we are afraid to lay bare our deficiencies and imperfections to each other, even in the face of potential enjoyment and self-awareness? Does dropping our guard make us more vulnerable? Of course it does. If we sing when no one is listening, then we have nothing to lose. But if we are to learn from nature then maybe we should be using our song to our advantage.

In the hours between 4am and sunrise you will hear a concert, a dawn chorus of birds, energetic and full of intent. During these cool, clear hours of the morning, birds advertise their fitness to one another. They proudly show off their energy, how they have survived the night’s starvation, cold temperatures, and evasion of predators. They use this opportunity to bond with each other and expand their social network. At this hour before sunrise, they have the podium they need. They do not have to compete with our human inconveniences. They use their song, their repertoire and skill, to advertise their willingness to participate in life. That’s what singing is all about. Every branch and ledge is a stage. No room for feeling bashful or self-conscious, no half doing it. They would not survive very long if they did.

The confidence of these birds, on visible branches and ledges, exposed and vulnerable, is really quite impressive. As humans, it seems we often lack that kind of blatant self-confidence. We worry about attracting too much attention. We often doubt ourselves, worried that we might fail. Worried we might not have anything worth saying. Worried no one will want to listen.

A bird doesn’t sing because he has the answers, he sings because he has a song. He finds his voice, sticks out his bill, and he sells the best version of himself that he can, even in the face of danger, even if he doesn’t feel like it. That’s what we need to do. On the days when you don’t feel like singing, fake it til you make it. Don’t wait until the opportunity is right. It will never be right. Just do it. Some days there won’t be a song in you but sing anyway. With each song you sing, you are learning and growing. With each song you sing out loud your confidence matures. Confidence doesn’t always bellow out of us, sometimes it’s that little voice you hear at the end of the day that says, “I’ll try again tomorrow”.

Ella Fitzgerald famously said, “the only thing better than singing is more singing”. When it comes to singing out loud, sometimes you just have to go for it. Any bird will tell you not to die without at least a few scars. With that, I look over at the freckled teenage face beside me, turn up the volume, and with Eminem on point, I reclaim my car; “you better lose yourself in the music, the moment you own it, you better never let it go. You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow. This opportunity comes once in a lifetime”.

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