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  • Writer's pictureKaren Smith-Gratto

NEVER Count Yourself Out

I loved hearing people sing and I loved to sing as a child. There was something wonderful about it. My mother had a beautiful singing voice with a large range, as did my great- grandmother.

I can remember sitting on my great-grandmother's lap while she sang and listening as my mother sang while driving or doing housework. My grandmother never sang but her lack of singing never registered until I was older. I would belt out songs and my mother would shake her head and say, “I don't know how I had a kid with such a voice.” I had a gravely voice which had about a five note range.

My mother died when I was 14 and I went into foster care. I would sing along with the radio when doing chores until I was told, “Please just play the radio and don't sing.” I stopped singing except in my room.

When I was 16, I got my first guitar and learned to play simple chords. I would quietly play guitar and sing in my room. In my senior year of high school, my school had a "Hootenanny" and I asked to audition. After the teacher in charge heard me, she said there wasn't room in the program unless I played and sang with another person who she assigned to me. As it turned out, we could both play guitar but our singing left a lot to be desired.

After graduation I attended Niagara County Community College. I hadn't given up my desire to sing so I joined the college folk group. The director was kind-hearted and let me play guitar, put me in the back of the group, and told me to sing quietly. Some of the students formed a smaller group and invited me to play guitar. I will be honest, they didn't want me or another guitar player to sing. When I would sing in practice, I would be told to just play guitar. I knew the ones singing had wonderful voices so I accepted that my voice wasn't up to theirs.

After that, I really didn't sing much. I went back to school and became a teacher. Fast forward 35 plus years - to my retirement. As a teacher I believed that people can learn almost anything so I decided to try a few singing lessons, to find out if I could learn to sing. I found a wonderful teacher, Elena DeAngelis in Greensboro, North Carolina and began my retirement adventure. Almost a year after I started lessons, Elena asked me if I would sing “The Star Spangled Banner” for the opening of the Senior Games in Greensboro. I asked her if she was sure I could do it. She assured me that I could and . . . I did it.

Learning to sing has been one of the greatest joys of my retirement. I have come to firmly believe that if you desire something but have been told you don't have the ability to do it, you should at least try. At first just trying gave me joy. But actually learning how to sing and having others enjoy hearing me sing is an even greater joy.

Thank you Karen, for sharing your story with us .

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