I am a singer. I am an artist. My fear is valid.
It was sophomore year of college.
As I sat in class, praying to be invisible, I heard my name, and immediately felt panic. Professor Coolman said calmly, “Melissa, you are a singer, yes? How about you singing something?”
I got up slowly, as he motioned for me to sit at the piano.
He played the changes to “All of Me”, and I sang through clenched muscles constricting my throat like a python. I finished, expecting some huge congratulatory praise, but it was silent. I thought if I closed my eyes, they wouldn’t be able to see me. He wouldn’t say anything. And then he reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. I thought he was going to take out a card for a psychiatrist referral or some money for the train home.
He took out a dollar bill and wrote the date on it, with the words, First time with an audience. I smiled, he smiled, the vocalists laughed with relief and sympathetic pity.
My turn came around for my next performance, and I felt like I was being sacrificed. I completed my performance, and again, the room fell silent after some polite applause by the class. Again, Professor Coolman said nothing. I couldn’t decide whether I hated him, or he hated me. Why would he put me through this embarrassment? And as he reached in his back pocket, the room now genuinely laughed with relief and an assembly of support. He took out another dollar bill and wrote the date on it with the words, First time with own arrangement and slid it across the piano. He still said nothing, but this time I felt like maybe there was a possibility he didn’t hate me and maybe I didn’t hate him.
“Melissa, kindly meet me in my office at 3 pm after class.”, he said one day. 3 pm felt like my lie could no longer continue. I couldn’t pretend to be a singer anymore. I walked into his office at 3. He was sitting as his desk, and this man who wasn’t much for small talk just let me sit there for awhile. He didn’t say anything. He got up, and slowly walked over to his filing cabinet. My exit papers for sure. He pulled out a single sheet of paper and put it in front of me. I was afraid to look. “Read that, and let me know what you think”, he said. This is it. It’s over. What am I going to tell my parents?
The paper was a single paragraph clearly photocopied from another photocopy. It read:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. – Marianne Williamson
As I read this to myself, the tension in my neck that had been a presence all my life swelled and released. The tears that I tried so hard to hold back just couldn’t be contained. They began flooding my eyes like an avalanche, obstructing my vision so that I could hardly make out the last few lines. I don’t even think I bothered trying. I knew what he was trying to say.
He saw me.
Someone had finally made sense of this inexplicable anxiety and need for perfection. I never knew how to articulate it to ask for help. I sat inside of it.
I wasn’t able to respond, so I just sat there and let myself cry. I was embarrassed to be this emotional. I was relieved that he understood.
Still in that relief, I wondered whether he was going to ask me to leave.
And then he shocked me. He asked me to perform with the big band.
Here I am, over ten years later, and the weight of that moment is just now resonating with me. The acknowledgement of my fear and how I remained engulfed in it.
Before I began writing my album, I had no idea how much it would mirror my real life and the process of my growth. Growing can take many shapes and stories. It can be a joyful reward and revelation. It can also be uncomfortable, confusing and emotional. For me, it was all of it. I had yet to see the gravity of this moment of art meeting life, because I was hyper focused on all the obstacles I encountered along the way, and trust me there were several.
When we’re in the thick of it, perspective seems an impossibility because we’re just trying to survive. It’s hard to recognize the universe aligning our experiences so that they provide the life lessons we need at exactly the right time to progress forward.
When you hear someone shout out words of encouragement to the band or the singer, it’s feels a little like church. Come on, sing! Play! Some might receive it as words of worship.
I receive it as a push, an affirmation, a sign I’m in the right place, going in the right direction.
So, to all of you who in any way, said Come on, sing!, I hear you.
My fear is valid but he’s full of shit.
I am a singer, that’s true. I am an artist, which is the truth. But my fear is a liar.
Love this and want to connect with Melissa? You can find her on facebook!
And a little more about her, for fun:
“You have to check out this voice. It is interesting. It is sassy. It is sexy.”, says producer John Clayton. Brought up in the jazz clubs of New York City, Melissa Morgan has a voice that is unexpected. From the exterior you would assume a sultry lounge singer, which does make an appearance once and awhile, but from inside she contains a powerful instrument. “Prepare to fall in love” (Bay Area Reporter), and fall in love you do. On stage she bares everything and makes you laugh while doing it. While belting a blues or tenderly massaging a ballad, she has come a long way from her appearance at the 2004 Thelonious Monk Competition. In 2009, Melissa released her debut album on Telarc Records, “Until I Met You” to enthusiastic reviews and was embraced by the jazz community as “the one we’ve been waiting for” (Dr. Herb Wong, jazz critic and historian). Downbeat Magazine included her on their 2009 Rising Star List and JazzTimes has named her “audacious and decidedly salty”. With her new album close to completion, she has gathered together her dearest friends to tell her story of the last five years, growing in the business and as a musician. While you will always hear definitive influences from Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington and Billie Holliday, “Melissa isn’t copying anybody” (London Evening Standard) and most certainly has a definitive sound all her own.