When lil MKP was 9 or so, she packed off to Camp Friendship or Camp Rainbow or Camp Excellent or somewhere for a two week sojourn. There were horses to ride, lizards to hold, vats of bug juice punch to drink and constant abiding anxieties about everything from stirrup pants to camp ghost stories to nurse and worry over.
Fortunately for me, there was also a camp talent show in which to participate. For the first one, which took place on an actual stage in an outdoor amphitheater, I awkwardly lipsynched “Sherrie” to absolutely no acclaim. My only other memory of that show was hearing “Don’t Go Chasin’ Waterfalls” for the first time.
For the second talent show it rained, so we were all crammed under a picnic area structure, sprawled on tables and tucked on benches as the rain poured all around. Since most students had come up with presentations that involved actual music from a boombox, unavailable in the midst of the giant puddle surrounding the patio, the event had become something of an improvisational activity.
I’d sung in my first choir the previous school year and remembered the crowd-pleasing “Jaws of the Jurassic” (yes, you can click through and hear a clip of it) we’d performed for Ms. Taylor. So I raised my hand and volunteered. I stood up in front of the group, hummed quietly to myself, and opened my mouth to sing —
Only to realize I maybe hadn’t sought the support of the crowd sufficiently. I asked if they wanted to hear The Yaya Warmup or the Jaws of the Jurassic.
The crowd of 9 year olds had no solid preference, but anything with “Jurassic” in it sounded better than anything with the word “warmup” in it, so they asked for that one. Well two of my friends asked for that one, the rude girl in the back yelled “Sing already” and the counselors with an eye on their watches suggested I might go ahead and pick my favorite.
So I rehearsed the song in my head quickly “Oh the jaaaws…of the juraasic ooh oooh ooh from the eyes of the predators the yadda yadda only by time blah blah blah” Yeah, this’ll be fine.
I opened my mouth to sing again. Only to find that the only words I could remember were from the title. And that the voice of one melodious 9-year-old soprano was not actually the same as the voices of a 24 person mixed children’s chorus. For starters, I was one person, not 24 people. So I was less loud. Also, I was not Mongolian-trained so I couldn’t manage two part harmony on my own, simple as the alto part was. The Jurassic doesn’t care, you guys, so after two quick runs through the murderously basic chorus. . .
I quickly transitioned to the choral warm-up our beleagured music teacher had us perform in the choir concert. Simple vocal runs, gibberish lyrics (waa, aaa, aaa, aaa; whoa—oa—oa—-oa, woooo, wooo, ooo, ooo, wee, ee, ee ee ee ee…ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya ya, wa wa wa wa wa wa wa, mee-yow mee-yow, oh-woop woop, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ho ho ho ho hee hee hee) and more important, the easy familiarization that comes from repetition every Tuesday morning at 10:30. It was right in my wheelhouse and restored my confidence enough that I followed up with a solo rendition of Cavalier’s “Last Kiss”
I walked away from that performance with three important lessons and a Best Camp Singer award.
1) Learn the freaking words to songs before you sing them. Not AS YOU BEGIN to sing them. Before. And also, practice, just so you’re not surprised when sound stops coming out of your mouth and your mind goes blank. Maybe even come up with some strategies to prevent the following panic attack. For my senior recital I totally fumbled the opening to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze,” but probably thanks to this formative I laughed it off and circled back for another run at it. Just something to consider.
2) Sometimes BSing it is ok. If small-minded audience members harp on the fact that you said you were going to sing a song about the Jurassic when you segue into a song about um, nothing, point out that they’ve never heard the song before so how would they know what was supposed to come next, anyway? Jerks.
3) Always have an encore that you know like the back of your hand. Why didn’t I just think of “Last Kiss” earlier? That’s not important. What matters is that I rocked it and Pearl Jam totally stole my idea a few years later.
3a) Consider your playlist before it’s time to sit crosslegged in the middle of a picnic patio. Maybe learn some songs your peers have heard of.
Whenever I have to teach, or give a presentation, or explain something to someone, I think of this moment. I was so confident, so smug, and then so un-concealably WRONG that I finally learned the value of preparation.
Or maybe I learned it the time I tried to parse the Civil War for Gigantor’s best friend’s 6-year-old sister. I was going on about Grant and Lee and Lincoln and Gettysburg, and a few minutes in she looked up at me and said “Did you ever listen to someone for so long you forgot what they were talking about?”
Yes, little girl, and sometimes that someone is yourself.
Waaaa aaaa aaaa aaa…whoaa oaa oaaaaa oh….wooo oooo ooo. . .