The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts April 20, 2007

Singing Solo

I work at Dascomb fourth meal and I enjoy it. I like my job because it allows me to see lots of people that I wouldn’t otherwise walk past in my routine wanderings of campus. It’s like a paid version of people-watching.

We don’t necessarily know each other. Conversations usually consist of my question: “Can I help you?” and their reply: “Yes, I’d like chicken strips and macaroni.” While sometimes we take the plunge and go for the intimate (“How’s it going?”), most of the time I’m content to stand in my apron and consider each face that appears behind the plexi-glass partition.

This is okay. Like a select few of my activities amongst the clash and clamor of a busy Oberlin lifestyle, my Dascomb time is actually relaxing. I find that playing the guitar and singing has an effect similar to that of cathartic paid eavesdropping, but there’s one catch — I have to assume that absolutely no one can hear me play.

Now, I know that this cannot possibly be true, as I live in one of the largest residence halls on campus. Obviously, people can hear me. But maybe they’ve all gone out for the day; they’re practicing in the actual practice rooms at the Con or sitting through a politics lecture. They aren’t there.

I need to play in such a way that there couldn’t be the faintest suggestion of performance. Why?

It’s entirely possible that I just have a narcissistic love for my own voice. It has happened to people before and, as I parade my thoughts all over a bi-weekly column, it is clear that my immune system has not developed the antibody to excessive self-love. I mean, really, what gives me the right to record these ideas over any other guitar-toting Obie? It’s not as if I don’t like to perform, either — although I find it terrifying I still get some satisfaction.

Or you could say it’s the other extreme. Due to intense childhood trauma in which my sister screamed loudly and painfully into my right ear until I stopped singing along with the radio, I have come to fear others’ reaction to my voice. It doesn’t matter how many times someone tells me they actually like my voice. Here, sandwiched in my room between a voice major and a violin major, I am especially aware of my lack of training.

But really, I don’t think it’s either one of these. Dascomb gives me time to unwind my never-ending twists and braids of thought, and so does singing. I need not to think, at all, for just a little while. It’s audible comfort, a noisy meditation.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I wonder. But I know that if you sing and no one is around to hear it, all distractions quiet down.


Powered by