I asked Mom recently how she was able to consistently sing a high C. She said, “You already have to believe it’s there. And once you believe it is, you have to find a way to let all negative thoughts go so that you can sing your high C.”
Daniel J. Wakin wrote about the high C last year in his article, “The Note that Makes Us Weep.” Wakin quotes Craig Rutenberg, The Metropolitan Opera’s director of musical administration, “It is the absolute summit of technique. More than anywhere else in your voice, you have to know what you’re doing. To me it signals a self-confidence in the singer that lets him communicate to us that he knows what he’s doing and he has something very important to express with that note.”
When I was growing up in Milwaukee, my parents formed their own singing act, The Pollays. They performed across the United States and Canada with stars like Joey Bishop, Shecky Green, Myron Cohen, Mark Russell, Morey Amsterdam, Rich Little, and David Brenner. My brother and I often had the opportunity to travel with them.
I remember one particular performance. Mom had the flu. And just minutes before being introduced on stage, Mom was throwing up in the bathroom.
I asked Mom how she was able to sing that day. She said, “I always had a belief that I could sing under almost any circumstances. No matter how sick I was, if I could stand up, then I could sing.” Mom continued, “You believe you can do it. You practice every day. You know you have the technique. You just have to concentrate and believe it is in you.” And not only did she make it through the show, Mom and Dad received a standing ovation.
In a chapter on self-efficacy beliefs for the Handbook of Positive Psychology, James Maddux, professor of Psychology at George Mason University wrote, “The truth is that believing that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish is one of the most important ingredients – perhaps the most important ingredient – in the recipe for success.”
How did a girl from Augusta, Maine become an opera singer?
Mom said, “My belief was that I could sing and that everyone wanted to hear me sing from the time I was three years old. My mother used to say that I woke up singing with the birds before anyone else in the family was up…and I sang all day.”
“There was always singing in my home,” said Mom. “On Sunday nights we listened to the Firestone Hour. We heard opera, operetta, and other beautiful music. I dreamed and I believed that I could sing as well as the stars could and that some day I would sing opera and be well-known. I bought sheet music and imitated all those famous singers, and the singers in the movies.”
Mom turned her talent and her interest into a successful singing career that spanned five decades and took her around the world. Mom’s beliefs gave her the drive and courage to accomplish something very few people do. She became a professional singer. She sang opera. And she could sing the high C’s.
©2008 David J. Pollay
Norma courtesy of Gonmi