She started singing a year ago, this small, shy Japanese woman, and yet there she was.
On stage, singing "My Romance" in an unever, halting manner, with a heavy Japanese accent.
Her voice tended to shake at the end of each phrase. She took breaths in inappropriate places, her phrasing was choppy and crude, and she would slow down dramatically when she was uncertain of what came next.
And I fell in love with her. She was thoroughly engaging, captivating and real.
This all happened last night in San Francisco at Thick Tuesday, a monthly salon/workshop/open mic for singers hosted by my two buddies, Lua Hadar and Linda Kosut, both of whom are professional singers and the "keepers of the flame" of the cabaret community in San Francisco.
Singers of all levels of experience show up for this evening in order to perform, learn and meet other singers. It’s a safe place for beginning singers to start singing in front of an audience and a fun place for professionals to try out new material in a very supportive environment.
What killed me about this 40-something Japanese woman was that her performance of "My Romance" was not only amateur but tecnicially and artistically horrible. And it was deeply touching, romantic and lovely. I was completely captivated by her and her song because she presented herself and sang in such an honest, revealing way.
She didn’t try to fool us into thinking she was a more experienced or mature singer than she was. She just walked up on stage and sang that song the best she could at that moment. And her performance was sweet, touching and mezmerizing.
I know a lot of you feel like I do most of the time. We don’t want to do anything in public in less we’re really good at it. We wouldn’t dream of getting up on stage to perform or speak unless we felt sure we could do a pretty good job. I mean, we don’t want to show what we DON’T know. We don’t want to show off our LACK of talent and skill.
But this beginning singer reminded me, once again, that it’s not about knowing anything or having special talent and skill. It’s all about showing up and being who you are in that moment. Being willing to share whatever you have to give, in that moment, honestly, openly, without pretending.
And if you can show up and be who you are, without trying to be more practiced, more professional, more skilled than you are, people just might fall in love with you.
I, for one, cannot wait to hear this woman sing again. Not because I’m going to be dazzled by her technique, but because I know she will wake me up to the beauty of being a beginner who isn’t afraid to be a beginner. Because I know that throughout whatever song she may sing, I’ll get to hear her and see her as she really is. And fall in love all over again.