One Small Song

Joining the Living Room Choir last year fulfilled my lifelong wish of finding a home for my voice nestled among other voices. I’ve always loved to sing. By the time I was in third grade, I’d learned the words to every verse of every Christmas carol I’d ever heard; at camp I was always the first to memorize all the words and verses of the songs we sang after dinner around the campfire. But after seventh grade, when the Director told me I couldn’t sing well enough to join the school chorus, I became self-conscious about not being able to carry a tune. “Maybe it would help to have your adenoids removed,” he suggested as I slumped and walked away from my audition.

I never stopped singing, but I sang alone—in the shower, while gardening, while walking—or with Jonah when he was a toddler. So many years of yearning to sing with others, of longing for my voice to be one of many. Then, after I joined the Living Room Choir, I no longer yearned or longed. Each Thursday night, at Grace Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, five minutes from my home, I sang in rounds and simple harmonies with the rest of the choir, clapping and swaying as I sang. Nothing could feel better than this, I thought.

Then, this summer, during the pandemic, I offered my seven-year-old granddaughter, Poppy, singing lessons with our choir leader. Poppy has always loved to sing. I have a video of her at four months crooning to me with her whole body. The lessons have become one of the highlights of Poppy’s week, who srecently announced to her family that she “really likes Kaitie.”

Poppy struggles with serious stage fright, and finds it very difficult to sing with anybody. Up in her room, by herself, she will perform the entire “Sound of Music” along with her CD; but even with me, her adoring grandmother, she only reluctantly agrees to a “short song,” sings nearly inaudibly, and requests that I not look at her while she sings.

So you can understand how thrilled I was when Poppy and I not only sang together the French lullaby, “Fais Do Do,” but recorded it to send to Kaitie, who will have a baby in September. When I first approached Poppy about singing with me, she only half agreed. “Maybe,” she said, looking at the ground.

Over the following weeks, I “rehearsed” the song with her several times, Poppy whisper-singing and looking to the side. Yesterday, while I was with the girls, Amelie disappeared inside to finish her lemon curd, and I asked Poppy if she were willing to try recording. To my delight, she shook her head, “yes,” then dragged a stool over to where I stood and stepped up. I clicked the record button on my phone, said “Go,” and began, “Fais do do, Colas, mon petit frère. . ..”

And oh my goodness, I wasn’t singing alone. Right beside me, Poppy was belting out the song, in the loudest, most confident voice I’d ever heard her use. There we were, in the middle of the pandemic, out on their family deck, a grandmother who was told she couldn’t sing, and her granddaughter who is usually too shy to sing, our voices blending, mine low and raspy, Poppy’s clear, oh so sweet and bright, singing to a teacher we have both come to love and her baby whom we cannot wait to meet.

Berkeley Sidewalk

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