Torch This: A memoir from the professional.

It was on Monday January 23rd at 7:20 pm (six weeks ago from writing now) that I received a text message from my friend Myranda.

“myranda : Would you be interested in singing for a benefit at cliff bells for an event that Cheryl from rouge is doing? I'm doing makeup. 7:20 PM

Me: Ummm yah! What date 7:21 PM

myranda : March 4th its a sun. Were having a meeting right now if you want to come to the ferndale library??”

I was out with friends for a night on the town and brought my phone, but not my planner. What was I thinking?? It didn’t matter. A while back I learned that if you get an opportunity, you say yes. You don’t wait to have dinner and watch Netflix with your husband and then reply to your text. This time I said yes without knowing what I had scheduled for myself over the next month. Luckily everything worked out, but for a full 48 hours I was freaking out!! I really wanted to confirm my spot. I didn’t care what I might have to work around. I mean, heck I’m a singer. Any time I get the chance to sing, I sing. And to do it at the legendary Cliff Bell’s, the most beautiful jazz club in Detroit. A place where numerous videos and movies have been shot at. Where talented local studio musicians and national acts perform. And where I have had the opportunity to sing at once before on an open mic night to a vacant house in the wrong key. I had to do this. I would be showcasing my voice, my dream, and my future.

I had a feeling that this event was going to be big, but it didn’t exactly start out that way. I knew I was confirmed, but I didn’t know for what, for who, for all of the other W and H questions. I found out that practices where at 8pm from Myranda, and immediately switched my work schedule. I got an email from the lead contact, Cheryl to join on Facebook, but didn’t get access to anything. When I did finally join the group page, it seemed like things were already happening that I had missed. Most importantly, songs were chosen!!! Communication breakdown. No time to fret. I had a Hal Leonard jazz standards vocal book which included the song, Come Rain or Come Shine. Although I had already, in a sense, performed a version of the song one night for my YouTube page, I had never performed it live on stage. Song picked.

Now onto the first practice. I was told that it was to be held in the “Dharma Room” above the candle shop in Ferndale. I was familiar with the area, but not the room. I was also told that it would be easy to find, “just listen, I’m sure you’ll hear us.” And in fact, I did. When I arrived, it seemed like everyone there had already known each other for years. There were women knitting in the back row, someone brought cookies, there was wine to be shared accompanied by plastic cups and bottles of water. About a dozen women had already chosen there seats and yet the front row was mostly empty. I still had a ton of questions, so front and center seemed appropriate. I didn’t know a soul. Well, a couple looked familiar, but I couldn’t remember from where. I briefly met Jacki, who I found out I had met before via Bricktown Station ( the rock band I perform in), and Cheryl, owner of Rouge and creator of the event that we were all there for. It turned out that she not only knew my friend Myranda, but also had connections with my day job at the salon I was working at. Not much time for anything else when announcements began.

I still felt a little behind on what was going on, but the atmosphere was welcoming and wine was being poured. Cheryl made some quick announcements and gave everyone a lip balm from her shop as a quick “thank you for joining” gift. (Awesome...and it’s not only organic and local, it’s delicious and bubblegum flavored!!) Then Amy, our vocal instructor, got up to start with vocal warm-ups and stretches. I recorded the warm-ups on my phone so that I could practice in the car. I was also curious as to the differences between the coach I currently had and someone different. She had us practicing the placement of our voice via the chakras on the body?? I just followed along, but don’t get me wrong, I was fully enjoying myself. I kept thinking, she isn’t Kate Hart, but I bet she would be Kate Hart approved.

After warm-ups, Amy had us practice the “group song” for the final performance. UHHH..what song? I shared the lyrics with Arlene for the song, “Thanks for the Memories”. After the group song, Amy had asked who wanted to go up first to practice their song and Cheryl let us know that her and Jeny would picking people out to discuss future plans and find out some information for our introductions in the meantime.

It was a bit rough for everyone who got up there. You could feel the nervous energy. Lyrics were stumbled, timing was off, and notes were stuck sitting next to frogs in throats. I had no idea until that point that most of the women had not performed a live solo performance before, and the ones who did, hadn’t done it in a while. No matter, everyone sat patiently and clapped after each performance. Amy then gave instructions to better improve some of the vocal tones. I waited until the end. It was awkward. Although I hadn’t performed my song live with a piano player instead of a karaoke CD, I already pretty much knew my song. Then word got out before I started that I was a professional vocalist....Ummm a.) no pressure there..and b.) $20 bucks to fill my gas tank once a month and a discounted bar tab once in a while makes me a professional?? Don’t get me wrong, my dream is to not have to need a day job to pay the bills, and instead perform a couple of regular gigs every week, but I’m not there yet.

I sort of psyched myself out. When the piano player started, I wasn’t sure when to come in, and then the same thing happened at the bridge and when I finally did join in the bridge, I couldn’t find my key. Hmmm, maybe I don’t know this song. Yikes. Is this the professional these ladies were expecting?? Upon finishing the song, I was told everything sounded great, but I was not convinced. Let’s just say, if I had videotaped my performance that day, it would not be one of the performances I would have put out on my YouTube page. Oh big worries. I still felt confident leaving the Dharma Room that night. I had lip balm, a future performance at Cliff Bell’s and a new instructor to work with to help me work on my song.

We had scheduled the same routine for once a week every Wednesday evening. The following week I felt so much more confident, as did some of the other vocalists. A couple weren’t able to make it that week, but there were also a couple of new voices that I got to see perform. The wine was there as were some homemade donuts from Maya. Things were going great except.....No cups!!! Jacki to the rescue. This time Amy had asked if anyone wanted to add anything after each performance. Keeping in my head that they all know me as “the professional”, I gave some tips here and there, but overall, you could hear the improvement. I couldn’t tell you what specifically it was, except that these women were practicing. I gave up my chance to practice that week so as to let the others use the time to build up their skills, but I stayed the entire night. There was just something in me that wanted to see each one of the women in that room do their very best. I was inspired by the fact they they were stepping out of their box.

We had to cancel practice the following week, but kept in touch with our facebook group page and emails. Approval for spelling was confirmed for the poster, scheduling our manicures were set, individual instruction with Amy and the piano player was collaborated. The wheels were being set in motion. At one point I had realized that some of these women might have never been on stage, let alone in front of a microphone. I offered to bring my mic, stand and speaker to the next practice. I had this internal feeling that if the only thing these women have to worry about is the way they sing their song, then we would all have a better performance. Again, I wanted everyone to succeed. I knew if they did a great job, I would have no worries.

At the next practice, it felt like we were getting close...a bit too close if you ask me. Posters were handed out, the mic was set up, and there was a drummer to keep time for the songs. It was getting a bit tense. There were all the pieces to the puzzle, but no picture. It was less than 2 weeks away and yet some of the songs seemed no different than that first practice. It was as if each of the vocalists, myself included, were able to sing the songs perfectly in their car, but not able to get it out in front of everyone. That was when Lola, owner of Via Vintage, arrived.

This little ball of energy was just what we needed to change the mood. Although, the music was still a bit of an issue, Lola gave us an idea of what our costumes were going to look like and that brought back the excitement of what we were all about to do. She suggested super high heels, and crazy bright tights. She brought some examples that were a bit intimidating, but lovely to look at. She said our hair would include some gorgeous fascinators and bows and maybe birds. What had we gotten ourselves into?!?!

The next time we met was at Rouge to pick out dresses to wear for the night of the show. I think everyone brought a little something from their own closet just in case the vintage frocks didn’t fit our bodies or personalities. To our demise and surprise, not much would be used from or own personal closets. Lola had quite a variety for us to try on from just about every decade this past century had to offer. I had an absolute blast. I had brought in a couple of my own vintage inspired dresses and shoes, but was really excited to wear something new for the performance.

The first dress I chose was Mrs. Roper meets Diana Ross. A full length gown with one batwing sleeve. Brightly colored paisley material and oh so 70’s. It fit and was so much fun to wear, but not necessarily what fit my personality or song. The next one I saw was a bright purple bejeweled Bollywood inspired lil’ thing. It looked gorgeous, but did not exactly fit over my hips. The final one, was one that I had my eye on the whole time, but to be honest, I wanted to take the time to try on the clothing from the collection while I had the chance. I chose a pleated raspberry dress with a rhinestone belt. This thing may not have been made for me specifically, but it could have. I’m not sure that all of the women were as comfortable trying on clothing that took them outside of their closets. Some kept asking, “are you sure?”, and we would all yell “YES!!” I felt like I was at a slumber party. Even though I was scheduled for only a half hour, I couldn’t bare to leave. I was getting to know these women better, and I could feel that they were getting to know themselves.

After the dresses, shoes were needed!!! I have never enjoyed the Beyonce inspired 6 inch platform spike heel fashion that has been so popular, but it was highly suggested for the performance. On my way home from Rouge, I stopped at my local Payless. I didn’t have much time to go shoe shopping and I just had a feeling that what I needed would be available. As luck would have it, a satin flowery printed super high heel was screaming my name. I kept, you tricked me again. I can totally see myself wearing these babies after the show. And of course, the price was right. I bought two different pairs just in case and ran right back to rouge to get approval that they would work. The flowery ones hit the mark! Some of the women it seemed were on the same time crunch as I and so I directed them to the store to see if there were other heels available that would match up with their dresses as well. I had to go back and return the pair that didn’t work anyway, so I joined Grenae and Arlene in the shoe shopping. Apparently I wasn’t alone in my high-heeled fears. First dress fittings, and now shoe shopping. We are such girls!!!

The next practice was the dress rehearsal, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it due to previously scheduled plans. That didn’t stop my excitement. I kept getting emails while I was away about searching for the perfect accompanist, final details and other last minute tidbits...including a guy that sings some song about a cookie?? Pics were posted on Facebook and everyone looked like perfection. This thing was really getting REAL!!!!

The last practice was only 4 days before the final show. We had our confirmed pianist and stand-up bass player and everyone was instructed to perform our songs in heels. We performed in the order of the show. I felt like I had missed something while I was away. Who were these women??? Each and every single performer had gone through some sort of transformation!! This time the singing and timing were spot on, the passion of the notes and words were felt, and the body movements were natural and enjoyable to watch. This time I felt like they were all performing and I was fortunate enough to be an audience member to watch. When it was time to sing my song, I knew I had to show my best to fit right along side of everyone else. There wasn’t enough time to get to know the piano player, so we went right into it.

I nailed it and I knew it! This was the moment that I was waiting for before the performance. When I got home, I posted the following on my Facebook fan page...

the phrase, "i do great when you do great" is the only way for me to describe the last practice i attended with the ladies of "torch this". ALL 13 performers were spot on!!! Every note sang perfectly, every facial expression was flawless and inviting, and the energy was undeniable!!! How could I not do my best when everyone else did better than best!!! So excited and honored to be part of such a fabulous event!!!

Now let’s hope I can do the same for the real thing!

We all had arrived at Angela’s loft at noon for makeup and hair on the day of the show. Her place was completely transformed into a beauty parlor. I was so excited, but very nervous. The cold I had was kind of taking over my body, and my voice was not reaching the high notes that I can usually get to with no issue. I was hoping for a miracle and even tried eating a garlic clove before I left. In my bag were fishnets, heels, my water bottle, tissues, and a bag of Ricolas. I felt so bad. It seemed like everyone had brought so many delicious treats to snack on, but I was so nervous I didn’t eat a bite. No dairy, no salt, no acidic foods, no grease and stay hydrated!!! It was like I was studying for the test that I had the same day. My tensions were calmed once my makeup was applied. Myranda was there and was chosen for me!!! Woo! I was one of the first to have makeup finished and what a transformation!!! Myranda had done my makeup before (see my photo on my website), but this time, it was pure glamour. My lashes were so long! It took a bit to get used to, but I knew it was all for the show. I waited patiently for my turn for hair and as I did it was nonstop with the H20 while watching a “The Voice” marathon. How meta.

I also spent my time watching each vocalist transform from moms, receptionists, teachers, shop owners and office drones to full on DIVAS!!!. The professionalism from the hairstylists and makeup artists was outstanding. They had preplanned each of the women’s individual hair and makeup and worked as a team to make sure that all 13 women were looking fabulous in a mere 4 hours. As each face was prepped and hairdo styled, you could feel the energy. All of us looked like supermodels. None us us could have done it ourselves! As for my hair, I had Stein (stylist from Thru Luna’s Eyes) and she had me in a “wet set”. She wet my hair down, rolled it in some velcro rollers and propped me under a vintage travel over head dryer. There was a photographer named Sherry who was taking a bunch of pics of the planned chaos. I know she got some cool ones of me under there. By the time Stein had finished, I barely recognized myself in the mirror! Cheryl had mentioned that she would make our makeup and hair dreams come true. They did.

When the clock hit our deadline, we all packed up our things, made one final look in the mirror and drove off to Cliff Bell’s. Getting into the car proved to be a bit tricky. The hair was big, and the purple bow in my hair had me crouching down in the driver seat like a little old lady. I sucked on a honey stick on my way there and practiced the vocal warm-ups from my phone. Most of the women had never been to Cliff Bell’s and had to use their GPS to direct them there. I still couldn’t believe it. I have been performing my whole life and still felt nervous to perform one torch song flawlessly. Where on earth did these women find the courage to do the same for the first time in their lives??

When we arrived, we took over. Lips were applied up the steps stage left in the ladies room, we were dressed and jeweled with a team up the steps stage right in the tiny green room. Quick sound checks were done center stage, and our individual headshots were taken in the art deco archway near the back. All the while, the place was slowly filling to capacity. No really, they were hitting the legal limit. They had sold out of reservations and there was only room at the bar available. Thanks to singer, Maya who took over on the application of some of the lipstick.

My mom had showed up in just enough time to grab the last of the bar seats available. She had offered me something to drink, but I could only drink tea at that time. My nerves were really getting to me and I still had to wait for 12 other performers ahead of me. Cheryl and Jeny had introduced the organizers of Detroit U.N.I. ( urban neighborhood initiatives- The benefit for which we were performing for in the first place.) A couple of other announcements were made and then before we knew it, Jeny was introducing the first vocalist for the evening Heatherleigh. Talk about pressure. No way she showed it. In fact, she set the bar. And that bar was high!

I stood on stage, heels off and by my side, glass of water in hand and enjoyed every single performance that followed. One after another was as good as the one before. And best of all, the audience was in the palm of our hands. They were wooing, and cheering, and getting to know each song from each performance. Some of the singers made me proud, some gave me chills, some made me tap my toes and want to sing along and some got my eyes teary. Gotta hold it in. Can’t ruin these lashes yet!

At intermission, I took a moment to run through my song in a near empty green room. (Amy was there too. Presumably to do the same thing.) I wanted to make sure that all of my efforts where working. This has become somewhat of a preshow routine for me. I can usually adjust certain notes that I sing if I can’t reach them as I’m singing them, but I wanted no room for error. I checked my makeup, hair and dress grabbed one last Ricola and was ready to go. I talked myself out of the nerves and just thought...I am a professional. This is the kind of place I was born to perform in! I took a moment to say hello to some friends who had surprised me by showing up. Somewhat more of a surprise was that my entire crew had V.I.P. seating on the stage with me!!

The second act went just as smoothly as the first. And the performers were each knocking it out of the park. The crowd kept getting louder and more excited as the night went on. A moment before it was my turn, I took a deep breath in and slowly let it out. As Jeny announced my name to the stage Myranda said, “Kill it.” I was on.

My moment felt entirely like it was MY MOMENT!!! I was completely in tune with the audience, the musicians, and mostly, myself. As I looked into the light like I had done countless times before, I kept on thinking how happy I was to be there. My moment to shine. It felt good. Really good. I could get used to this. The rehearsals, the hair, the makeup, the shoes, the jewelry, the music, the stage, the lights, the audience!

After taking the stage, it was Amy’s turn. I sat on the side of the stage as she performed “Embraceable You”. I lost it. All of my emotions just came right out. She was the last performer of the evening and had done as equal of a job as each of the others. I couldn’t believe that her song meant that we were almost done.

When Amy had finished, the whole group performed “Thanks For the Memories”. I have never wanted so much to separate myself to be both, on stage and off the stage at one time. We must have looked amazing. Not one of us didn’t look or sound like we didn’t belong up there sharing the stage together. What a sight we must have been. We took a group photo afterwards that had a setup that seemed very similar to a second grade class photo. I can’t wait till those come out!!!

The next morning, the Facebook tagging had begun. Not a single picture, amateur or professional, looked bad. I was there every moment, and yet the photos seemed to capture more. Immediate chats of additional collaborations are being made. Maybe a book. Still a ton more pictures out there to see. A video or two. And it’s back to the daily routine. (Just booked another National Anthem for the derby girls.)

Whatever happens after this event can’t be topped or recreated in just the same way, but it will stay in each of our hearts and minds forever. I have such a respect for each and every performer involved. Heatherleigh, Patty, Cheryl, Maya, Greane, Anika, Krista, James, Jacki, Angela, Arlene, Amy, and Jeny. I will remember your performances forever, as they have inspired me to do my best. Cheerio and toodlie doo, and thank you so much.