I was a music major back in the dark ages…starting in 1980.
I spent two years at Los Angeles City College, or LACC. As you might expect with any music program, I took classes in music theory, harmony and piano…
For some reason – it was insufficient attention and the fact that I was not very disciplined – I never got to the point where somebody could drop a piece of music notation in front of me and I could play it on the spot.
I regret that. I should have been more devoted to the instrument. I have said before that my piano-playing style is a conglomeration of ADHD, trial-and-error and muddling through. There is much more about my piano journey HERE.
I have a great ear, though, and I can also play like hell from a chart.
But that’s not why I wanted to write this.
We also had choir and voice classes, including sight-singing (solfeggio). Somehow I was OK with that. Way more than sight-reading piano music.
Early on, the professor in charge of the choir stuck me in the tenor section.
Problem was, I couldn’t sing that high. Still can’t.
That was a mistake – so I just pretended – using falsetto or simply mouthing the words. I should have said something, but I was not exactly a self-starter back then.
In voice class, another professor named Wes Abbott knew I was struggling with the high range. I remember complaining about it to him, and he recommended a renowned throat specialist named Hans Von Leden. Some names just stick with you, and a name like his is hard to forget –
But my then girlfriend’s dad was an audiologist and I went to see a throat guy in his practice in I think West Covina or San Dimas. I don’t remember exactly what the guy did, but there was nothing inherently wrong with my throat.
My brother and I could sing high before our voices changed – and the same girlfriend’s mother seemed relieved when she met me in person, because I sounded like “a used car salesman from Van Nuys” when I called for the first time to speak to her.
Well then, I have a low voice – and I should not have been placed in the tenor section.
Which brings us to rock ‘n’ roll…
When I was growing up, a vast majority of rock singers – and pop singers for that matter – seemed to ascend into the heavens with their vocal ranges. Think about early Elton John or Billy Joel for instance. Or Robert Plant. Or the late Tony Lewis from The Outfield. They must have had a Vise-Grip attached to their nether parts…
Steve Perry, anybody?
Not me. Or my brother.
In some band lineups, we tuned down a half-step to give us a little breathing room.
And the transpose button has long been my friend.
I enjoy playing and singing Elton John songs – and I take a perverse comfort in the fact that he can no longer hit the stratosphere. But then again, at least he used to.
I’m somewhere between Tom Waits and The Smithereens’ Pat DiNizio. Somebody once said I sounded like Elvis Costello, but he can sing higher. Randy Newman, maybe.