2DO Before I Die:
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Submitted by Sandy, 55, Nantucket


Today she called me adorable, then hit me.

I am not in an abusive relationship - at least I hope not. I have merely taken up serious singing, at an age when, if I'd been serious to start with, I'd be calling it quits, and my teacher, several decades my senior, is a perfectionist who in her passion for music sometimes gets carried away. It's true that I was hunching my shoulders - a less than optimal way, instinct notwithstanding, to reach the high notes. The swat was utterly justified.

My new obsession began innocently enough, with involvement in a community choir. Small semi-solos - quartets, trios, duets - have slowly led to this, my greatest challenge to date, singing the part of Gilda, Rigoletto's innocent young daughter who sacrifices herself in the name of love. "Caro nome" - "dear name" - is the aria I've been entrusted with, and it's a bitch, sprinkled with high Bs, Cs, and in its pen-ultimate flourish a trill that dances even higher, in a range I would have thought audible only to dogs. It is one scary undertaking.

Every time I head over to Paulette's studio ("Breeze een!" her Swiss-accented admonitions haunt me; "don't chute!"), I have to wonder how absurd my newfound ambition must seem, right up there with Zelda Fitzgerald taking up ballet in her thirties. How many good or even passable-amateur years can I have left? And yet when I leave each lesson, I'm walking on air - "sull'aria," as the phrase goes in another selection we're preparing, a duet from Figaro. Musical phrases pursue me throughout the day. It's all I can do not to burst into song while poring over mesclun in the supermarket. And alone in the car? Forget it - I'm Callas and Sutherland rolled into one, a blasting bundle of virtuosity.

My mother, a former concert violinist and dedicated non-athlete, took up tennis in her late sixties, so there's some precedent for this type of late-life mania. She got healthy and strong. I'm getting slowly pried out of shyness. If you want to sing, you can't lurk and hope to be overlooked. You have to put yourself out there, front and center. The only way I've found to do this is to imagine myself in service to the music. Ego comes into play, of course, but less as goad than stumbling block: stop to consider how you sound and you're sunk.

Performances invariably flash by in a sickening swoop, not unlike a ski slalom. Did you catch that breath? Uh-oh, too bad, forge ahead and don't take even a micro-second to berate yourself, it's too late. You emerge at the end so high on adrenaline, it takes ages to return to earth and remember where you are. At some point, with any luck, you managed to zombie-walk offstage.

You'd think the post-concert compliments would be the big payoff, but really the most rewarding part is when you're summoning the courage to get up and do this thing which your rational mind tells you you simply can't.

"Don't sink - just DO!" Paulette's voice infuses my every waking moment. I wish I'd met her decades ago. I'm glad to have her poking and prodding and praising me now, even if she does sometimes tend to get carried away. I'm starting to, too.


Sandy writes on travel and culture, visit her website at: www.sandymacdonald.com

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(c) Sandy Macdonald 2004