In our Writers and Music series, authors discuss the music that has either been included in their most recent novel/play/poems or the influence music has had on their work overall.
Susan Tepper’s fourth book is titled From the Umberplatzen (2012). It’s a quirky love story set in Germany and told in linked flash fiction. Susan is the series editor at Fictionaut for the Monday Chat Interview column and hosts FIZZ, a reading series at KGB Bar in NYC.
As a kid, I would lie on my bed and recall every chord and nuance from my dad’s Frank Sinatra records. I could hear it all as if Frank were standing at the foot of the bed serenading me. In retrospect, those were kind of strange and uncanny events, though at the time I took it all for granted. It was fun.
In 5th grade, my family moved from Nassau to Suffolk County on Long Island, which meant a school change for me. All the little girls in my new class were part of a choral group that practiced each day after lunch. They were sweet girls and encouraged me to join, so I tried out.
The music teacher, Mr. Acappella (name changed to protect the not-so-innocent), said he was "sorry," but I didn’t have "a voice." Sad and shamed, I had to sit with all the boys after lunch while the girls practiced. But here’s the thing: our classroom teacher, Mr. Wonderful (for real, he was wonderful), read Huckleberry Finn aloud. When that book was finished he read Tom Sawyer.
Not only did I no longer care about being excluded from chorus, I waited with bated breath every day for the appointed hour when the girls would exit the classroom in a giggling stream and the stories of Huck and Tom and the mighty Mississippi began to unfold.
When I was seventeen I went off to drama school. It was there I discovered I had near-perfect pitch. I went on to perform with all kinds of bands as the "girl singer." Up and down the Jersey shore, we played rock, folk, country and pop gigs. This from a girl who didn’t have "a voice."
There was a movement I heard about years ago called "Anyone Can Sing." I don’t know if it still exists, but I saw it on a TV documentary, and it followed people in that group from their first croaking attempts at song to their colossal debuts as singers who could do it really well.
The psychology of this group was that "anyone can sing." I believe that. It’s as natural as talking. I think somewhere down the line, people encounter their own "Mr. Acappella" and big fear sets in. I didn’t own that fear, but I could have been crippled by it, were it not for the arrival of Mark Twain’s stories at that precise moment.
I also discovered that I liked the company of the boys, quietly entranced by those stories.