113 Trying Things Out

Tina had left me a message on Facebook, wishing me luck in the Sweeney Todd auditions. Everybody seemed to expect a lot of me. Alvin seemed really eager for me to try out, which made no sense if he shared my expectation that I would just win my usual place in the chorus. Maybe I did have a chance at a main role; at least it was something to focus on instead of my relationship issues.

It seemed a long shot, but I had been doing some thinking. There were only three female roles, and Mrs. Lovett just seemed completely unrealistic for me. Johanna’s songs were too high, which was too bad, since I was sure I could act the role just fine. That left the Beggar Woman. She was a soprano, but not as high as Johanna, and the acting would be a lot closer to the role that I had originally been assigned in Mousetrap, before the change. If Alvin was thinking of me for her, I would be thrilled. Even if I didn’t actually get the role, being seriously considered would be an accomplishment.

Of course, I couldn’t kid myself. It was only because I was in Marsha’s body that I possessed a voice capable of doing the role. I wasn’t nearly as good a singer as Marsha had been, but I thought I was passable, and my own knowledge of music theory would be sure to help. It was a good thought to take to sleep.

When I arrived at auditions early the next evening, Nikki was sitting at a desk outside the auditorium. She looked up from a stack of papers and waved me over.

“Glad you could make it, Marsh,” she said, handing me a piece of paper. “After you fill out the audition form, you can go wait in the Green Room.”

“A lot of people here?” I asked, taking the paper and a clipboard from her and pencil from a pile on the desk.

“Not yet. You’re only the fifth one so far, but we’re expecting a lot.”

I looked over the form quickly and saw a problem.

“Nikki,” I said in a low voice in case somebody came in unexpectedly, “They want me to put down experience. Would it really be honest to put down Marsha’s roles?”

She chuckled. “That’s mostly just to get a sense of you. Alvin knows you’re not the same girl who did those other shows, but he also knows your work in Mousetrap, so just put down what you would if you were really her.”

I nodded and filled out the form as best I could. By the time I was done, three more people had come in; only one of them even looked familiar. And when I went downstairs, the only one I knew was Cheryl, who greeted me and said that they would start calling us in to sing in a few minutes.

It wasn’t until the third person had gone out to sing that somebody I knew showed up – Jo, who had been in Mousetrap with me. I greeted her almost out of relief.

“Good to see you, Jo,” I said, hugging her.

“Yeah, I guess most of Alvin’s regulars won’t be here; I don’t think he’s done a musical for two years. Are you trying out for Johanna?”

“I can’t reach her notes, or I would,” I answered. “I’m hoping for the Beggar Woman. What about you?”

“Same,” she laughed.

And then Cheryl tapped me on the shoulder and it was my turn to sing. They don’t really make you comfortable at these things. I stepped out onto the lighted stage, and squinted into the darkness as an unfamiliar voice asked me what I was singing.

“The Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” I answered – it was safely in my range, plus had a slight taste of bloodthirstiness that I thought would help them think of me in the Beggar Woman role.

I felt that I performed it well, but I got absolutely no feedback – just a polite, “Thank you. Cheryl has some scenes for you to look over.”

Jo looked expectantly when I got back to the Green Room, but all I could do was shrug. I had a chance to read later for both the Beggar Woman and Johanna – again, I have no idea what they felt about how I had done. After everybody had had a chance – Jo actually read for the Beggar Woman and Mrs. Lovett – Alvin came downstairs and thanked and dismissed us, telling us that we would receive casting notices via email.

“Some of you will receive roles or chorus parts immediately. We may have to do callbacks for some of the roles; anybody who is called back for a role will definitely be offered a place in the chorus if they’re not otherwise cast. Once again, thank you for coming out to audition and I hope to see most of you at our first rehearsal in a week.”

Naturally, I checked my email the first thing in the morning. They had cast a few roles, but had announced callbacks for most of them – and, to my disappointment, I was not on the list for the Beggar Woman. I did find my name on the callback list for Johanna, which did me little good; no doubt a range check would be the first order of business at callbacks, and I would walk off with a polite thank you once they realized I couldn’t hit all of the notes required.

I tried to be philosophical about it; whatever zing Marsha had that had landed her those leads was obviously not working for me, and the chorus of Sweeney Todd was a pretty good chorus to be in. Still, I had hoped for more. Jo, I noted, had been called back for the Beggar Woman, so I could at least root for her.

It was still bothering me after my last class that afternoon, and I didn’t want to mess up my date by being depressed, so I called Mom to vent, but she surprised me.

“What do you mean, you can’t hit the notes?”

“Mom,” I explained. “The role goes up to a high B flat.”

“And you sing up to a C. What’s the problem?”

I choked. “C?! Mom, my top note is an F, almost an octave too low. I can’t come close to a C!” Then I realized something. “Mom, are you forgetting that I’m not Marsha?” After months of secrecy, I sometimes had to remind myself that Mom and Dad knew.

“I’m not forgetting anything, Honey. I see no reason that you shouldn’t be able to sing the same notes that she could.”

“Well, great, but I obviously can’t,” I pointed out. “I’ve tried. Mom, I never had voice lessons. I sing – I mean, I used to sing – with my guitar, and it was always mostly the guitar that people listened to, not me. I mean, maybe Marsha could sing those notes, but I haven’t learned how, and there’s no way for me to learn how before Sunday callbacks.”

“There was also no way for you to learn to sew, but you did, didn’t you?” Mom countered. “And I can tell you now that your skill with a needle is just as good as hers ever was; you’re just limited in what techniques you know. So why shouldn’t you be able to sing as well as she did?”

“But…” I sighed. “Mom, I’ve tried. If it were just skill, wouldn’t I be able to do it now? I know that I can probably sing as well as she did – certainly I could never have made notes like these, even in my old range. But it’s like you said with sewing techniques. I just don’t know how to do the higher notes.”

“Okay,” Mom said, doing her patient thing. “Let me hear you, Sing a scale for me from about the middle of your range to up as high as you can go.”

Well that was easy enough, and just to be sure, after I had finished singing into the phone, I found my highest note on the guitar. “There, Mom, see? I can sing the F, but not any higher. Now how exactly am I supposed to learn all the way up to B flat in two days, if that’s even possible? Doesn’t it make sense that the combination of me and Marsh just wound up in my having a lower range?”

But she just said, “I didn’t hear a break.”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, I don’t know how men’s voices work, but women have a definite break between chest voice and head voice. All you sang was chest voice.”

“What… what does that mean?”

“Well, for one thing, it means that you can hit those high notes. You just need to sing in head voice.”

“I have no idea what head voice is,” I said, confused. “Is this something you learn when you take voice lessons?”

“Well,” she replied, “It’s mostly something you learn by being a girl and singing a lot.” She explained about the difference between chest voice and head voice and how they feel, but when I tried, all I got was the same strained feel when I had tried to sing higher all along.

“Okay,” she said. “Let’s try something else.” And she did. She came up with one way after another for me to try, none of which worked. And then, suddenly, something clicked and I sang a note I’d never thought to hear coming from my throat.

I stopped in shock. “Did you hear that, Mom?” I asked.

“I sure did, and you just sang in head voice, Marsh. I’m guessing that was at least an A.”

I checked the guitar. “B flat, actually, Mom… I just sang a B flat! I can’t believe it. I just sang a B flat! And it didn’t hurt at all. It was easy!” I tried to recapture my thoughts when I had done it, the way I’d sung it, and sure enough, I did it again. Then I sang a bit lower and did a brief scale, up and past that impossible, incredible note. “I can do it, Mom! I can really sing this high!”

“I told you so…”

“Yes, but it was easy! I can sing this – I can actually sing the role! And… I know Alvin likes to use people he’s worked with before, so I should have a real edge there, and…”

Suddenly I sat down, hard. “It was… easy, Mom,” I told her. “Too easy. You’re not supposed to be able to suddenly sing like this.”

“Well, obviously, it wasn’t quite that easy for Marsha – you’re just the beneficiary.”

“That’s not what I mean,” I insisted, shaking my head, “It just seems unfair. It’s as though I’m being taunted.”

“How is this different from the sewing? That came pretty easy, too, didn’t it?”

“It’s not the same,” I said. “I never cared about sewing. But… and please don’t tell Tina this, Mom, but while I was always proud of her for being such a great singer, I was also, well, jealous. I never got more than bit roles in musicals – you know, maybe a singing line here or there, but never more than that. And Tina got a lead her first year in high school!

“And then Tina told me about Marsha, who not only got a lead her freshman year, but all four years! That’s the girl who was born instead of me, and she was successful beyond anything I could imagine in being cast. So… yeah, I was really jealous. Envious… whatever.

“And… it’s not just that, and I know this is stupid, but… Jeremy. Tina planned to introduce him to Marsha. Not me… Marsha. She was supposed to be his girlfriend, not me. And I’m a bit jealous of her for that, too. Really stupid, huh?”

“How can it be stupid?” Mom said, soothingly. “It’s how you feel. You didn’t do anything stupid because of it, did you?”

“I guess not, but… I just have this feeling, and all of a sudden I can sing like Marsha, and without really doing much. I feel guilty, somehow. I’m going to go to callbacks and maybe / probably get the role over girls who really worked to get their voices to this level, and it just doesn’t seem fair somehow.”

“So you’re going to pass up the chance, then?”

“No!” I exclaimed. “I want to do it; I just feel a bit guilty about having the ability handed to me like this.”

“Marsh… do you feel guilty about being beautiful? About being smart? About everything good about yourself?”

“I’m not–” I started to say almost by reflex, but stopped.

“Honey, everybody has good qualities, some innate, some learned, and not everybody is the same. You are what you are and there is no reason to apologize for it or feel guilty.”

“I don’t think you’re quite getting–”

“Now, who you are is a bit… unusual… I know this uncomfortable for you, but if having Marsha’s singing voice is a good thing, accept it. There are enough things you don’t like in what’s been done to you, that you shouldn’t feel at all guilty about taking the good things. Look at it this way: if Marsha were still Marsha, she wouldn’t have any reason to feel guilty about winning the role or having this voice. As far as the other girls are concerned, it really doesn’t matter whether you are ‘Marsh’ or ‘Marsha,’ does it?”

“I guess not,” I admitted. “Only… it sort of feels as if I’m being bribed with this, you know, to just accept what’s happened and not think about changing back.”

“And is it enough to make you decide not to try to change back?”

“No! I mean, it’s really nice, and… there are a lot of things that are really nice,” Like Jeremy, I thought with my heart clenched. “But I want to be myself again. I want to be who I’m supposed to be.”

“Well, I can’t help you with that, Honey,” she said, reasonably. “But I can love you for who you are now.”

I nodded. “Thanks, Mom. I love you.”

“I love you, too, honey.” And she hung up.

I sat back and tried to process what had just happened. The obvious thing was finding out that I could sing higher, which meant that I could actually have a chance at a major role in a musical, but… Mom had said something that seemed to touch at the core of my existence. It didn’t seem to help me make any decisions, but it felt kind of good, at the same time. I had to laugh at myself. I had been so worried about what my parents would do if they ever found out, and yet Mom was super accepting, and Dad… well, he did try to take over, but backed off really quickly when I objected.

I guess, if I had to go through all of this, at least I had the right parents to do it with. And that was worth so much more even than having the right singing voice.


  1. scotts13 says:

    Good one, Russ. After the last chapter, this isn’t what I expected one titled “Trying Things Out” to be.

  2. brich says:

    Excellent chapter! I’m getting excited just to see you writing about Sweeney. Also,

    –“Well,” she replied, “It’s mostly something you learn by being a girl and singing a lot.”

    Maybe I just had a priveleged childhood, but I would think most guys know this. At least any who sing at all, and definitely those who take musical courses.

  3. von says:

    Well, personally, I was disappointed by this chapter (altho not for the reasons Scott suggests). The issue raised here would have been fun and relevant back at the beginning, but seems oddly out of place here.

    And I am totally mystified by Marsh’s motivations. Somewhere in there Russ must have some concepts, but I don’t get them. He wants sex, he doesn’t want sex… and I can’t figure out how or why. He wants to be a girl, but he doesn’t want a girl, and I can’t figure out how or why.

    And then his parents, especially his father, is again praised for his moral cowardice. Sigh (c).

  4. Russ says:

    > Maybe I just had a priveleged childhood, but I would think most guys know this. At least any who sing at all,
    > and definitely those who take musical courses.

    I’m mostly basing this on my own experience; I was in Glee club and many musicals in high school and college and had never heard of “head voice” or “chest voice” until several years into my community theater experience.

  5. von says:

    I must agree with Russ, except that I doubt this would have needed ‘teaching’ of this sort, but would have been discovered by Marsh earlier. And I’m not sure why we have a whole chapter on it at this point… except maybe to show us the new relationship between Marsh and his mother.

  6. scotts13 says:

    brich’s comments not withstanding, I’m reminded of an old Asimov story – A priest is challenged to enter a discussion, and view others arguments as though his own religious beliefs did not exist. Because for the rest of the debaters, they didn’t. Quite an intellectual stretch. I’m guessing that the percentage of a general reading audience fascinated by the details of casting a stage show is… well, less than half, at most. To some of us, it’s as though theater doesn’t exist. And we’ve done this before.

    Similarly, the uncovering of hidden talents has also been seen before. All that’s new is the guilt, the recognition of her own acceptance, and the fact she has someone new (her mother) to discuss it with. These are interesting and possibly significant points, but the way they’re presented makes me suspect I might skim through this chapter, If I has the story complete in my hands.

    Not a bad chapter, but a one sentence reaction might be: “Uh huh. And?”

  7. BMeph says:

    >> “Now, who you are is a bit… unusual… ->I know this uncomfortable for you,> I guess, if I had to go through all of this, I had least had the right parents to do it with.

    …I /AT/ least had the right parents…

    Also, as to the “chest voice/head voice” thing; I learned it by middle school at the latest, from church choir. I guess this is one of those “YMMV” subjects.

  8. April says:

    Singing over a phone line? They’re really quite compressed and screw up most any sense of musicality. But, I’ll accept it because I’m enjoying the story so much. 🙂

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