After Years of Silence, the Notes Come at Last

By Dispatch From The Stage Of Life
Monday, April 6, 2009

Much like Cheryl Kravitz, we survived until a certain age with the belief that we could sing. Then one day we were divided into groups at the youth church choir practice. We were assigned to the "altos." What's an "alto," we asked? The crushing answer came from one of the older kids: "They're people who can't sing."

At the age of 6, I would tie a sweater on my head, put on one of my mother's slips, grab any kind of cylinder I could find and belt out "Shrimp Boats Is A-Comin'." More than anything in the world, I wanted to be a singer. Sometimes I would sing along with Jo Stafford's recording, but usually I was a cappella, making up words as I went along.

My uncle bought me a picture book of occupations so I could decide what to be when I grew up. I ignored teacher, sales person, social worker, nurse and seamstress, the highlighted jobs for women in the late '50s. I went straight to the page depicting a beautiful yellow-haired woman dressed in a snazzy red ensemble, in my mind looking very similar to me in my sweater and slip. She was a singer.

The years passed, and in the fourth grade our class was given the honor of providing entertainment at the school's spring assembly. We were going to sing "April Flowers." Our teacher asked us to sing the song for her, and she would walk around the room and decide whether we were to go in the alto or soprano group.

I could barely contain myself as she knelt at each desk, believing with all my heart that she might ask me to sing a solo. When she arrived at my desk, she listened to me for a minute and whispered in my ear, "You'll need to mouth your words." I was devastated.

When Linda Ronstadt came out with her recording of "Different Drum," I learned all the lyrics. A friend told me that if I inhaled before I started to sing along, I would be able to carry the tune when I let the air out. I sounded like a thousand cats being herded into a wind tunnel.

I learned how to sing in silence, long before any of those scandalized rock-and-roll singers. I moved to Maryland and married a cantor, a singer. He tried to get me to join in to sing "Happy Birthday" at family events or at services at the synagogue, but I wouldn't. I couldn't. Sometimes, in the privacy of the shower at home, I tried a song or two, usually from theater soundtracks. When we saw "The Phantom of the Opera" at the Kennedy Center, I spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning up and simultaneously belting out "Music of the Night." It was not pretty.

In 1993, we adopted a baby girl from South America, and a few years later we celebrated her birthday and new citizenship. We held a huge party at Wheaton Regional Park with a red, white and blue theme and a special birthday cake. I said I would read the letter proclaiming her a citizen, and my husband could lead the group in "Happy Birthday" and "America the Beautiful."

It came time for this once-in-a-lifetime moment, and I read the letter. I looked at her happy face, my husband's smile and our supportive friends and family. It was time. I found the tones that had been silent for so many years.

I'm not very good, and I'll never make a record. But I can sing again.

-- Cheryl Kravitz, Silver Spring


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