When people don’t like your singing

At the end of the year in elementary school, the band teacher at the middle school arrived to test us, fifth graders, to see who had “the music.” If you had the music, you could be a part of the middle school band the next year. If you did not, then you took woodworking.

We lined up by the stage. The band director played a few notes on the piano. It was strange to be in the cafeteria when it wasn’t time to eat. Every sound bounced off the floor and empty tables.

Some students hummed in tune.

Many were off.

If you hummed in tune, the director would then look into your mouth and examine your teeth. If you could hum in tune and had teeth, he would offer you a place in the band.

“Let me see your teeth,” he said.

“You will play the clarinet.”

“Let me see your teeth.”

“You will play the tuba.”

“Let me see your teeth.”

“You will play the flute.”

I stepped close to the piano. I wanted to be in the band. But, I didn’t yet know that I couldn’t sing.

The director played a few notes and I hummed.

Or, I tried to hum.

“Stop, stop,” he said.

He stopped playing the piano and a few kids snickered.

He rubbed his head with his hands. Then he tried again in a different key. I’m sure all my 5th-grade voice needed was a different key.

“Well, he said after a few minutes of trying to find the right note for me to hum.

“You can play drums.”

Yes. Maybe.

My face turned red, I sat down, and I forgot about the band.

But, in the 7th grade, I somehow managed to get into the choir. The choir director must have had pity on me and needed another person regardless of ability. I don’t remember, so I am guessing that there was no humming test at the piano.

Once, at a choral concert in the school gym, I stood in the risers in the back. In front of me were the real singers. I wore a suit and sang as loud as I could.

An angry guy turned around and said, “Who is that back there singling like a horse?”

My face turned red again. I didn’t try to sing anymore.

But the church I grew up in sang a lot. Actually, most everyone sang, even the ones, like me, who sounded like horses.

At a church I once visited, I again made the tactical mistake of singing too loud. (I thought that’s what we were supposed to do.) The guy standing in front of me turned around with a disgusted face like, “who’s that horse singing back there?” I stopped again.

Not long after that, I was listening to a radio commercial that changed my outlook on singing.

The ad began with some church organ music. There was a guy trying to sing, but his voice was awful. The announcer said that sometimes our voices may sound strange to people. But God hears our voices, regardless of our ability. By the end of the commercial, that guy’s singing was in tune.

The point of the ad was that God hears us sing — regardless of how we sound — and he likes it. Even if it sounds like a horse.

Now, I don’t know how far to push the comparison. Because the people sitting near us are somewhat forced to listen to us even if we sound terrible.

So I decided a long time ago that when I do sing, God is my audience regardless of who’s around me.

I just try and keep the volume down low.


Paul Swann is a dad, husband to a Russian Princess, lawyer, legal instructor, writer and occasional guitar player. He spends his time in Arkansas with his aforementioned Princess Bride, Two Stunning Daughters, and two ne'er-do-well dogs. You may find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even his Medium Page.