En Ding, En Ding

Poor Mary Beth Evensen. It wasn’t her fault.

My mother decided it was time for serious voice lessons. I didn’t protest.

I’d already won a part in the 1st National Tour of “Annie”, and thought I was hot stuff, but according to my mother, a woman downtown, could take me to the next level.

I wanted to go to the next level, wherever that was.

We went to the Grande Dame in question. She wasn’t taking new pupils, but she agreed to see me as a courtesy. The Grande Dame trained singers for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Was opera the next level? I didn’t know. I wanted to find out. She played scales, arpeggios, and asked me to sing. I’d already had less formal training, and had been in chorus at school, so I knew my way around a bit of vocalizing. “Very good,” she said. She still wasn’t taking new pupils, but she had a former student who was; Mary Beth Evensen.

Mary Beth was in her early 30’s, a pale suburban woman, with whom I felt little connection. I also had the sense that she was a 2nd class version of the Grande Dame. I didn’t dislike her. She seemed interested in helping me. She wanted to mold me. I wasn’t sure I want to be molded, but I wanted to do my best by Mary Beth, and I liked the individualized attention.

The singing student – teacher relationship is intimate; the hand on the diaphragm, instruction in breathing, how to shape the mouth, how to position the tongue. It’s physical. I was in deep adolescence, 15, going on 16. At times, the feeling of being controlled by this woman, was too much. The sound she wanted seemed foreign to me, artificial. I told myself she knew something I didn’t. Wait for it, Honor, your vocal epiphany will come.

I did my exercises, learned the songs she assigned, but I remained uninspired.

I suggested, perhaps, we try something more along the lines popular music. She looked at me, as if I told her to eat her own vomit. Ok, how about Jazz? Musical Theatre? Folk music! I love The Weavers. She assigned me, “Och Mod’r, ich well en Ding Han!”, by Brahms. It is a folk song.

Apparently, Mary Beth’s concentration in vocal studies had been in German composers. It was the discovery of this information, that crystallized the feeling that we were headed for irreconcilable differences. If I had to sing in a foreign language, could it not be Italian or French? German? Really?

Och Mod’r, ich well en Ding han!
“Wat för en Ding, ming Hetzenskind?”
En Ding, en Ding.
“Wells de dann e Pöppchen han?”
Nä, Moder, nä!
Ehr sitt kein gode Moder,
Ehr könnt dat Ding nit rode!
Wat dat Kind för’n Ding well han,
Dingderlingdingding!

In Enlgish:

Ah mother, I want to have something!
“What sort of a thing, child of my heart?”
A thing, a thing.
“Would you like to have a doll?”
No, mother, no!
You are not a good mother,
You cannot guess the thing I want!
What sort of a thing could the child want,
Dingderlingdingding!

The mother goes on to try and guess what the daughter wants; a ring, a dress, a husband? Yo, moder yo! She wants a husband! I wanted to sing Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.

I learned the Brahms with its impossible, and quite frankly, embarrassing number of dings. There’s 40 altogether. A teenagers ding come true. Not. Singing it felt like wearing a pair of thick platform shoes. Novel, but awkward, and clunky. Also, decidedly uncool.

There was a recital coming up, some kind of vocal competition, and Mary Beth said I would do the Brahms. She also assigned me, “People Will Say We’re in Love,” from Oklahoma!, as a duet with a friend of hers. I didn’t love her choices, but I didn’t mind doing her bidding in private lessons. The thought, however, of going public, before a crowd with these songs, filled me with dread. I knew I wouldn’t wow anyone, and I like to wow em.

I noticed my voice was beginning to change in ways I didn’t like. I also noticed that classical singers who sang non-classical music, still sounded like classical singers. It was as if their instrument had been so polished and refined, that the original sound had been lost, or absorbed. I didn’t want that to happen, but I was a girl who couldn’t say no, not to Mary Beth, anyway.

The recital came. I did okay, platform shoes and all, but when Mary Beth called the next day (Dingderlingdingding!), I hung up on her, as soon as I heard her voice. It was spontaneous. I didn’t even say hello. My heart was pounding. I took the phone off of the receiver, and left it off.

Poor Mary Beth Evensen. It wasn’t her fault.

The next week, I didn’t show up at my lesson, and she called again.

This time I answered. She said she’d tried calling before, was disconnected, and that it was then busy for hours. I played dumb, but I told her I didn’t want to take lessons anymore. She thanked me for letting her know. She wished me luck. I felt like a skunk, but I was relieved.

Och Mod’r, ich well en Ding han!

Ah mother, I want to have something!
“What sort of a thing, child of my heart?”
A thing, a thing…

What sort of a thing could the child want?

My voice.

I wanted my voice.

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About honor finnegan

I'm a singer-songwriter, storyteller, and essayist. Also, a special education itinerant pre-k teacher, Heartfulness meditation trainer, and New Yorker.
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2 Responses to En Ding, En Ding

  1. horvendile2 says:

    I liked Chuck Berry’s version.

    Liked by 1 person

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