I Wanna Be a Mezzo-Soprano

Sometimes, when driving down the highway, I sing.

During those peaceful times on Interstate 95 when it’s just me, hawks and turkey vultures, tractor trailers and other businesspeople in rental cars, I sing at the top of my voice.

I don’t necessarily always realize I’m even doing it. This time of year, I listen to Sirius XM Channel  4, which plays oldies Christmas carols, and 94.9 FM, which plays holiday music from now until December 26. These stations put me into a festive spirit, but because I also know most of the words to the songs, it makes it even easier to sing them at the top of my lungs.

(Just in case you think this makes me sound a little weird, I should point out that when driving, I am usually alone. I also restrain myself when I’m on conference calls in the car, especially if I’m leading them. I also don’t go for singing in the shower, because I don’t have enough time to complete all of the verses.)

A number of years back, I was driving down a back road and singing very loudly, and stopped only when I saw blue lights flashing behind me. When the cop came to my window, he asked, “Do you know you were speeding?”

“No,” I said.

“Why were you speeding?” he asked. “Are you in a rush for some reason?”

“No,” I said. “I was just singing.”

“Singing?” He looked surprised, as if he had never heard that one before.

“Yes, I was singing. I am on my way home from choir practice, and I was singing.”

I really was on my way home from a church choir practice at the time. I used to go every Tuesday night to prepare for Sunday services. That was when I didn’t drive so much for work, so I had to get my singing fix at church.

 “What were you singing?” he asked.

“’Amazing Grace.’”

I really had been singing “Amazing Grace.” Love that song. Ever since I saw the movie Silkwood and that song comes up near the end, I have been haunted by it. If you haven’t seen that movie, you must watch it. Did you even know that Meryl Streep can sing? She can. In the car, and out.

When I was pulled over on that back road, I was in the middle of the third verse: “Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; ‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home…”

Seriously! I was on that verse.

The cop said, “I’ll be back in a minute,” and he went to his cruiser.

When he came back, he didn’t give me a ticket. Or even a written warning. He just said, “Just make sure you slow down—this is a residential zone, only 30 miles per hour.” I assured him I would.

He probably thought based on the particular song and the fact that I was coming from church that it would be sacrilege to give me a ticket.

I got these singing genes from my mom (not my dad, who always said he could not carry a tune in a bucket, which is true). When my parents first met, my mother was studying to be an opera singer at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Her father had been a musician, and she had a lovely voice, much more beautiful than mine. But she never pursued her music after she had three children—we occupied her time.

For years, I remember being horrified at Girl Scout or school events at how loudly my mother would sing. When it came to “God Bless America,” “Day is Done,” and “Johnny Appleseed,” she let it rip. Her singing was operatic. It was embarrassing.

Now, I miss that voice. All those fall afternoons when I am at my son D’s football games, and we are singing the national anthem with the crackling loudspeaker, I wish she could be embarrassing me in the bleachers by my side.

But I do hear her when I sing. As I was driving down the highway the other day, catching myself singing aloud to Nat King Cole’s A Christmas Song, I heard her whisper, “Whenever you sing, I am with you, you know.”

That’s the amazing grace of it all.