We are all connected. To the Hillsboro National Guard and their spouses, parents, children and friends. Know you are loved and supported by your community. Be safe boys.
Last night I sang the National Anthem for the Hillsboro National Guard unit 11B who are being deployed to Afghanistan for the fourth time.
A few weeks ago I received a phone call from Steve Frazier at Contract Furnishings Mart. Steve explained several contractors and his warehouse manager at the Tigard store were connected to the unit. He was planning a send off event for the boys and their families. He was providing a steak dinner for these boys with dessert compliments of Beaverton Bakery. The local boy scout troop would be doing a color guard ceremony. Jerry Willey, the Hillsboro mayor, would be saying a few words. (Jerry is also a retired from the Navy and is a Vietnam Veteran.) Eddie Villegas, a friend and local flooring contractor, also coaches the the Hillsboro Ladyhawks, a local roller derby team. These girls were also coming, as well as the local Hillsboro Fire Department and some members from the local police department. Would I sing the National Anthem a cappella?
Here is Steve Frazier on the right at a Professional Remodeling Organization event with Bob Wilcox.
Steve Frazier is one of my favorite people. He is charismatic. always the life of the party, yet still has a deep, deep love and compassion for people. I was honored and immediately said yes. Besides, what happens when roller derby gals merge with the fire department, service men and police officers? There is cake? This sounded like an interesting experience!
It might surprise a few of you to know that I sing. I find creative endeavors have always been a part of me whether it is music, art or writing. The last few years singing has taken a back seat to my design business and my need to spend more time with those I loved. When I first started Angela Todd Designs, I was also a wedding and event singer working between 55 and 70 events a year. Launching my own interior design business, booking, rehearsing and performing in the band - proved to be too much for me to have life balance. I had to pick one passion and let the other not be as prominent. It was never a sad moment. It felt right. The season of my life called for focusing on my interior design dream.
I didn’t need my range much, so I didn’t commit to keeping conditioned. Your vocal chords respond like muscles. When I was working in the music scene I warmed up my voice once or twice everyday. I could probably count the few times I have warmed up my voice in the last 5+ years. My higher range as thinner and less full bodied than it once was and I would be out of breath easy singing. Sometimes I would go see friends who are musicians and they would call me up for a song or two. In those cases I would pick easier songs that I can sing well. During these last few years I have also tried a few harder songs via Karaoke – knowing it isn’t on stage with my well-respected friends – I would stretch and try more vocally challenging songs. It was frustrating sometimes moving out of key at high pitches because I didn’t have vocal control anymore. I also sang once a year annually at the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland for the Divine 9 Chili Cook-off with my old fun standards of Aretha Franklin, Patty LaBelle and Tina Turner. Oh Gosh. I pulled these songs off barely. All these things reminded me how out of shape my voice was.
Here I am a few years ago when I was signing professionally at an event in Portland.
The National Anthem isn’t really a song that plays it safe, and I wanted to do well for these boys! So I committed myself to some vocal exercises the weeks leading up to the National Anthem. For those of you who may know a little about vocal work, I used to see Thomas Blaylock weekly for vocal work and I followed his method. I used his technique and the old CD’s he gave me for when we weren’t working together one on one.
Despite doing the vocal exercises once to twice a day, I only ran through singing the National Anthem one time about a week ago. That may sound really strange, but I know the song and I have sang it many, many times before. And I didn’t need to practice the song, I needed to condition my voice.
I got nervous yesterday afternoon. I was doubting my ability. I was afraid I wouldn’t hit notes I thought I could – or afraid I would do something embarrassing in general. Then my mind took a different point of view. By the time I drove up and parked, I realized what I was doing was giving a piece of myself to these young, impressionable boys and to their parents and families. The reason for the event was so much bigger than my shallow fears. These boys would be risking life and limb in Afghanistan. As I was standing a few steps away from the microphone, and the color guard placed the flags I felt fear distracting me again. As the color guard ended, I dropped my fear like an overcoat thinking again of the bigger purpose. As I stepped up to the microphone, I intentionally tried to bring joy and pride to everyone in the room.
I was happy with the way I sounded. I was a portal feeling the sound come out of my body and moving through the room and rafters. I savored the moments. I felt the room’s mood change with each note. Afterwards, more than one grown man in uniform told me my a cappella version of our anthem made him misty eyed. Mothers and wives stopped me to say thanks. I heard the compliment without ego. I was honored to be the portal for increasing the vibration in the room – and I was honored to be asked. Any kind of art is like that. It transforms people.
When I stopped making the experience about my fear, it allowed me to experience the experience. This is a metaphor for many things in life. Be present and get out of your own fears. What is your art to offer the world?
Here are a few of the Hillsboro National Guard members represented in the photo with me. Aren’t they babies? My friend Jeff Church ‘s finger is in the photo on the left side. Whoops!