The Art of Singing: Opera vs. Preschool

“Pop quiz, hotshot!”

Him: “Wut?”

Sigh. Too early for 90s Keanu references, noted.

“Sing ‘Baby Bumblebee’ for me. Let’s see how far you get.”

Him: “…is this for your blog?”

“Just sing it! …yes, fine, it’s for the blog, now sing.”

Last year, after a spectacular fail at singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in his practiced, full, gorgeous tenor’s vibrato that caused my then five month old daughter to produce her very first WTF face, I taught Mike how to sing like us regular folk so as not to freak her out again. It was then, as I walked him through my litany of preschool standards, that I realized something.

My Tenor can sing in at least five different romantic languages, but fumbles almost every preschool song I know by rote. So this morning, I decided to quiz him. He gets past the first verse of Baby Bumblebee with no problem, but he skips the second verse, wherein the child violently smashes the offending insect to bits between her hands, and goes straight to wiping off the remains of the bee on his pajama pants.

“Nope. Try ‘Five Little Ducks.’”

He starts singing, I stop him, “With the choreography.”

Him: “There’s choreography?”

Right.

I admit it, in the beginning I was frustrated with him. Ridiculous as it sounds, I could not fathom why he, of ALL people, couldn’t pull it together and memorize a few simple nursery songs to sing to our daughter in order to engage, soothe, calm, and educate her. I was this close to banging my head against a wall in time to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Speaking of, the man still fans out his fingers like a flower instead of making a sun-circle with his hands when he sings the line, “out came the sun,” and he’s been trying to sing it for a year now.

I’ve heard him try to soothe her while combing her hair with softly sung arias, and those just drive her even more batty. I can hear it in her cry, “Seriously, Dad? I want ‘Twinkle, Twinkle,’ not ‘Barber of Seville!’” 

This morning I asked him what he thinks his block is about, why he’s a whiz kid when it comes to learning his music for work, but he struggles with the preschool songs. His best guess is, he’s trained to sing bel canto: songs that feature lots of short phrases that repeat over and over again. Once he gets those short phrases, and the meaning behind them if they’re in a different language, then it’s note memorization. Those preschool songs are damned tricky with their choreography, the same tune sung with different lyrics (ABCs, Twinkle Twinkle, and Baa Baa Black Sheep are all set to the same tune, by Mozart), and… and… uh…

At this point I’m just looking at him. The Look. Really? That’s your block? Preschool songs are just much too complicated for a simple opera singer like yourself? Let me have a crack at it:

One of Mike’s favorite things to say when he’s feeling beat down by his job is, “Well, it’s not coal mining.” His work can be tedious. Practice, memorization, the rehearsal upon rehearsal, and then performances, the late hours…. However, he knows he’s lucky. He works with adults, all (or, y’know, most) geared towards a common goal. There’s very little minute to minute multi-tasking that isn’t rehearsed ad-nauseum beforehand. 

Then there’s my job.

Here is a thirty second snippet of my day at lunch time in the preschool classroom:

I just got 12 three year olds to successfully serve themselves food out of serving bowls, when Molly poops her pants. I need to change her, she wants to eat. Molly becomes a stinky, messy, screaming ball of hungry Tasmanian Devil, but I get her into the bathroom. Teacher is distracted; party!! As I’m cleaning up and changing Molly, Cain starts poking Abel with his spoon, and Abel starts yelling at the top of his lungs for Ms. Jennie to HAAAAALLLLLP! Timmy grabs the nearest serving bowl and starts gobbling up the tuna macaroni and cheese casserole with the serving spoon straight from the bowl and I’m watching helplessly from the bathroom with one eye while the other eye is watching to make sure Molly’s messy backside isn’t backing into me and my clothes or skin, and oh wonderful, here comes my director with a tour of potential new families for my classroom and I launch into “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

This is not any ordinary song, however. I sing it the regular way the first time. The second time, I sing about the “Little Baby Spider,” which is the original tune sung in a FABulous ear piercing falsetto, followed by everybody’s favorite, the “Great Big Spider,” again, same tune but sung in a monstrously low, gravelly voice. By the time I’m halfway through the second song, things have calmed down, Molly has stopped wriggling, Cain and Abel are clapping along, and my director has removed the serving bowl from Timmy’s grasp and places it on the lunch cart, and the prospective parents are smiling about how wonderful everything is.

Mike has trouble remembering the original, no frills “Itsy Bitsy Spider” when changing his daughter in the privacy of our own bathroom. His level of multitasking is different from mine, in that he doesn’t have this skill set, yet. It will come with time, patience, and practice. Honestly, I feel he will have a full book of preschool songs memorized and ready for use…

When he’s diapering his grandchildren.

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