Voice

Voice.png
Voice
A Short Story
By Maryanne Peters

My life changed when I was twelve. Up until that time I was just a normal boy. I played ball, I climbed trees, I caroused with my friends, we got dirty, and sometimes into trouble. I was entirely normal except for one thing – I had a talent.

At the age of eight my mother urged me to try out for the church choir. We were no really church goers but she had always thought that I had a good voice just from me singing along in the car, so she suggested that I might like to try it. So I went along with her, and my life in music started from that day.

I did have a good voice. The choirmaster was not just complimentary, he was amazed. He told me that he had never heard anything so beautiful. He had me in the choir straight away, and within two weeks I was doing the solo.

I knew that my voice affected people. I could see it in their faces. It is a powerful thing when you see it happen. It is almost intoxicating, although I did not understand like that at the time. I just knew that if I made other people happy that made me happy.

The priest told me that I had a gift from God and that I should make it my mission to have it heard far and wide. I don’t know about that, but he helped bring me to the attention of others in the church. I got invited to sing more solos, some with orchestral arrangements.

By the time I was twelve, I had recordings, and my parents were receiving money for the music I was making.

The boy soprano voice is a beautiful thing, but perhaps more beautiful because it must end. It lasts only the fleeting moment between the ability to learn the music and the technique, and male puberty. And then it is gone forever. It was not a happy thought for me.

My father suggested that I could still have a career in music. He encouraged me to learn a musical instrument, but while through singing I knew all the notes and I could read music, I did not have the hands for any instrument. He also said that my male voice was bound to be good, but just a little research established that was not true. Boy sopranos do not necessarily become good male-voice singers.

My mother and my manager, Mr Thomas, had a radical suggestion: Put off puberty. It was never intended to cancel it, but just delay it’s onset by a couple of years to help me to make some savings and explore options to stay in music. It could be done by taking drugs – androgen blockers which would stop me from developing as a young man should.

I cannot tell you how keen I was for this to happen. The way I saw it there was nothing to lose and everything to gain. The downside as described to me was that every one of my friends would be going through puberty except me. Big deal. I was the only one of my friends who was a singing star. I might call myself that, but none of my friends were interested in choral music, or had even been to church or a concert hall to hear me. To them I was just Mitch Lawry, the kid whose voice hadn’t broken. We still did everything that we always did. But over the next couple of years that would change.

The first thing I noticed was their voices change, probably because I was conscious of that. I was horrified. Some of them went through the awful stage where the voice was high or low and completely out of control. The pimples and general bad skin was also a big downside. As a performer I always tried to look good. My skin had no blemishes.

Then I noticed that they were getting stronger than me. I was growing taller but they were filling out while I had almost no muscle. It became clear in some of our more boisterous activities that I was no longer up to it – not if it meant competing with them.

And then, disaster. I started to grow breasts. I went with my mother to see the family doctor. He had been opposed to the androgen blockers and tried to persuade us to end them, but we had just scored a contract for me to tour with a choral group as a soloist in the fall, and we could not stop now.

The problem that the doctor described, is that androgens block the effect of female hormones (oestrogens) which become active at this time, even in males. Breast tissue would continue to grow until I stopped taking the blockers. If I wanted to continue to block puberty, I would just have to hide them.

I used a stretch bandage to bind my chest and I could only where baggy clothes. That got a little easier heading into colder weather, and on tour where I wore a chorister vestments. I did not look forward to returning to school and spending summer as the boy with the tits. Having done my lessons on tour with my mother I looked to the possibility of home schooling.

When I got back from the tour I had a sort of party for my fifteenth birthday, and to tell all my friends that I would not be at school after spring break to devote myself to music. All of my friends were now well past puberty and I was sort of jealous of the whiskers and the muscles, and their effect on girls. I had invited a few girls too, but they were not interested in a tall prepubescent man child.

My sadness was only lifted by a new recording proposal. My manager had scored a job singing arrangements of Mozart’s music for castrati. Castrati were boys who were castrated in post-renaissance and made a career as singers. Mozart and Handel and many other great composers, wrote music for castrati and it is some of the most beautiful music. Nowadays women sing these pieces, but by this time my voice had developed so that it was perfect for these pieces.

I continued to take the androgen blockers. My breasts continued to grow.

I was in increasing discomfort so my mother suggested that I wear a bra. The idea seemed ridiculous because I had always assumed that a bra was only to display the breasts. But my mother said that a sports bra would be comfortable and practical. So, I decided to try it.

At that time I stopped cutting my hair. I am not sure that it was a big turnaround for me. I just thought that with lots of people already assuming that I was a girl, short hair was not working. And people did assume that I was a girl. I was too tall to be a child (but not tall for a young woman) and I had a high voice and a clear and hairless face. No matter that I strode about as man does, people in shops would say: “Can I help you Miss?”

When I first met Andrew Younger he thought I was a girl. He was in the recording studio with his rock band but had come across to the classical area to look for somebody to do a specific piece of background music. They had played him some of my voice.

He told me afterwards: “I had just come from a loud session and my ears must have been ringing a bit. I thought they said your name was ‘Michelle’ and even after I started talking to you I thought you were a girl.” And he was shocked to find out I was not.

I had never been involved in rock music before, but of course, I was raised on it and I loved most of it. I sort of ‘jammed’ with Drew for a bit in the studio. We really hit it off. He had a bit of a classical music background in that he had played the piano from an early age. He was a really talented song writer who was looking to combine musical influences. I thought he was the coolest guy I had ever met. That was probably the reason why I agreed to his suggestion to meet the band as a woman.

It seems so crazy now that I would do this. I had never had any thought of dressing as a woman or pretending to be one. I was mistaken for being female despite the fact that I had never done anything but dress and act as manly as I could. The problem was that he had told the band that he had lined up a girl to do the singing before he knew about my rather strange situation, and the band were expecting to meet a girl.

“It would just be too hard to explain your status”, he said. “You don’t have to wear a dress or anything – jeans are OK. Just act as you do. I think you just come across as relaxed and unpretentious. That’s good. But maybe go to the beauty shop and have your hair and makeup done.”

Why did I not say no? It would have been easy, but somehow, I wanted to work with him and the band, and I sort of understood why it would be easier not to have to explain that I was an aging boy soprano or a pretend castrato. It was easier for me to fit in if I was a girl.

He had arranged for the band to meet me at a classy new bar downtown. I was not even sixteen but he said I could easily pass for being of age if I was a woman. The prospect added to the excitement.

I had plenty of pairs of baggy jeans that pulled together at the top with a belt, but I decided that I needed to get a new pair. I was browsing through the jean store when the assistant said: “With a figure like yours Miss, I think that you should consider our new “Sapphire” range.” Mistaken for being female again.

It seemed like the jeans that she showed me fitted like a glove. I had not noticed it before, but I had a full and round bottom above my shapely legs. The only problem I faced was in front, so I had to research how to hide my small bundle. In addition to being shaped, the “Sapphire” jeans had blue gems instead of rivets and stitching in curved patterns. They were sexy. The assistant said that they would look great with heels but at the very least I needed a nice pair of flats, so I bought them too. Not completely flat – maybe just a little bit of heel – easy to walk in.

Drew said that he would pick me up from outside the beauty shop at 6:00 pm. He told me that he had arranged an appointment for me and that he would pay. “It’s in the performance budget”, he said.

This was all completely new to me. But I sat in the chair and got the treatment. The lady at the salon knew that I was a boy but she raved about the condition of my skin and hair. She said: “Any girl would kill to have it as good as this.”

My hair was naturally fair and she just put some colour and curls in it and brushed it to give it body. She put some makeup on. She said it would not be too much to keep things casual, but she seemed to working for a long time. Things were finished off with some red nail polish to match my lipstick. She gave me the stick to take away. She said: “You’ll need a bag”, and found one in the back for me to borrow for a few days.

I just wore a loose men’s shirt, but the look was so feminine I could hardly believe that it was me. I could no resist pouting a little at the mirror

Drew was waiting outside when I stepped out. He had a really nice sports car. He opened the door for me. I felt special. I started to think that dressing like a girl might not be a bad thing.

We arrived at the bar and he introduced me to the other members of the band as “Michelle, the opera singer.” He sort of, had his hand in the small of my back so it seemed a little strange, but not unnatural. The guys had heard my voice and were impressed. The question was how it was going to be used in the number that they were working on. I felt like I was being involved in the creation process, and that was really cool.

There were some girls there too, maybe girlfriends of the band members, or maybe just groupies. They talked to me a bit, and then we sort of went off to the bathroom for a chat together. I am not sure how this happened, but I was clearly being included as “one of the girls.”

“Are you and Drew together,” one of them asked me,

“I’m just here for the music,” I said.

“Well, that’s OK,” she said. “I think he is super-hot.”

“He’s quite good looking, I guess,” I said. “And I think he is really talented musically.”

“I just thought that with the way he looks at you, you might be together.” That is what she said. I did not realise that he was looking at me in any special way. I found myself looking at him throughout the night to try to understand what she was talking about. Whenever our eyes met he would smile and I would smile back. What look?

I was only 15 and not used to drinking. I was a little affected by alcohol I guess. He offered to drive me home as (he said) he had only drunk a little. As I fastened my seat belt I drew it across and under my breasts.

“They look real,” he said.

“They are real,” I replied. I jiggled them a bit to show him. I did not mean to be suggestive, just to show him that it was real flesh. I suppose that I felt a bit playful. Maybe it was the wine. Maybe it was the fact that I knew what I looked like – I looked like a girl. A pretty girl. The kind of girl that could take advantage of a guy like Drew.

There was a definite look on his face now. Lustful. Somehow it made me feel powerful. I said: “You can touch them if you like.”

I am not sure why I said it. It was a come on. What a girl would say to a guy. I was not surprised when he undid his belt and mine and within seconds he was groping me and kissing me. What did surprise me was that I was loving it. I was kissing him back. It was as if I had been missing this kind of intimacy in my life. While everybody about me was exploring young love, I was a sexless aesthete, tied up in classical music. Now I had become a sexy rock-chick with a rock and roller boyfriend.

I was a rock-chick – a girl. He was my rock and roller boyfriend – a guy. In the moment, it was not at all weird. It was not weird until his hand found its way between my thighs, and he suddenly pulled away. In those jeans I was not showing anything down there, but he could feel something. He was not happy. He clipped his belt back on and started the car.

“I am sorry,” I said. He said nothing and we drove in silence for a while.

As we arrived at my house he said: “I find you fascinating, but I am not gay.”

“I don’t think you would be attracted to me if you were gay,” I replied. “After all, I really am a girl, with a just a little problem.” I motioned to my crotch.

I just said it to reassure him. It was a lie, or so I thought. I did not think of myself as transgendered, but I did not want him to worry about being gay. I did not want him to be gay. I realized that I wanted him to see me as a girl. Maybe I was reassuring myself that I was not gay either? But the fact is that (as the song might have said) I had kissed a boy, and I liked it. As I stood at the door of my house I realised that I wanted him to kiss me again.

I tried to go straight upstairs to my room, but my father called out to me to come into the living room. This was going to be awkward. I was in girly jeans and my breasts were swinging under my shirt. My hair was coloured and curled and I had made-up eyes and bright red lipstick. But I just thought: ‘What the hell’.

Both of my parents were aghast. They showered me with questions.

“I am nearly sixteen,” I said. “If I go out looking like a eunuch people stare at me. If I dress as a girl, people don’t stare. Well, if they do, I’m just one of many being looked at like that.”

I ran upstairs in a bit of a rage, but I found that I was crying. It really ruined the make-up, but even then I sat looking in the mirror, unwilling to take it off.

The news my father gave me was that I was to be doing a recording of some classical pieces, and that we would be travelling out of town for a bit. I was a chance to get away from school, and put the girl thing behind me for a while.

But I have to say, “the girl thing” never left me from that night. I found myself looking at women’s clothes in shopfronts and magazines, and checking out make-up and hair styles. I even shaved my legs. I was taking a bath and there was a razor, and I just did it. I decided that I really did have good legs, and that I would look great in a dress. The right dress, that is.

And there were the breasts too. They were becoming very difficult to hide. But I was a boy, and I did what I could to appear a boy, and act like a boy, for all those weeks, right up until Drew called me.

“You know the sessions we did with your voice?” he said. “Well, I incorporated them into 3 songs on our last album. And two of them are going to be released as singles. The company is raving about them. It is like – our new sound. Mish, if you want it, you’re in the band. They want us to perform and do a video. That means, with you singing, with me.”

All I was thinking was that he had called me “Mish” not “Mitch” and that I did not want him to call me anything else. For some reason just hearing his voice excited me, no matter what he said. His clear joy made me happy. How could I refuse.

My mother said: “Mitch, you have the voice of an angel. Why would you want to sing in a rock band when you have been singing such beautiful classical music?”

“I love classical music,” I replied. “But this is creative music making. These vocal riffs are my own material. Drew and I are working on a new sound – something novel and exciting. Using voice as a rock instrument. I want to be a part of it. I don’t want to abandon the classics, just expand my art.”

My new rock persona would be female. In some ways it made things easier to be somebody new. The boy soprano (who was no longer a boy to the extent that even my manager admitted it was becoming embarrassing) was Mitchell Lawry; the rock-chick was Michelle Jacobs – using for a family name, my mother’s maiden name. I could potentially pursue both musical paths. For a while anyway. This was always going to be temporary.

I called Drew back to tell him that I was available. I asked him: “Do you want me to wear a dress?” Of all the questions I could have asked, that was my question. Not how much money we would make. Or whether I would need to perform after the video. Just if he wanted me to wear something pretty.

“Would you?” he said, almost pleadingly. “Do you want to?”

“I am just thinking about the look,” I said. “I think that the voice calls for something contrasting with you guys, maybe even a long dress. I think that would be appropriate for the voice. A contrast to you guys?”

“We have a few days to rehearse first,” said Drew. “Are you free tonight?”

I only had my girly jeans and sandals. My mother suggested that the first thing I needed was a bra, and then I could find a suitable top at the department store. I knew nothing about bras so it was just as well that my mother was there to help, but her idea of tops was no help. I already knew what I wanted as I had seen some great stuff in a second-hand shop. My mother was horrified.

Despite my mother recommending nude or white, I chose a red bra. And with the lace top and the jeans I looked great. I had picked up some colourful clips for my hair too. I know Drew liked the look, and the other boys in the band seemed to like it too.

They asked if I could play any musical instrument, and I said that I had learned a few chords on the guitar. In fact, because I am musical, I found that I could easily pick up what little was needed to contribute to numbers where my singing was not required. However, for the video one particular song was to be covered, and my voice was the key component.

Drew had the recorded song set up, and we played and sang it until we had it right. Then we got back together the night after and played it again a few times, until we were all comfortable. As it turned out, the video would just be lip-syncing, but the director suggested that if we could connect up the speakers on the set, he would film “a live version”.

We were just clowning around. The video had already been done and the pressure was off. I was wearing a floral dress that day, and it was low cut in the front. I had been experimenting with cleavage and I was almost spilling out. I had a piece of the dress fabric in my hair. Drew and I were singing face to face. He was laughing. I was hitting the high notes perfectly, sometimes with my hand on his shoulder. At one point I pulled his ear while he was singing, and he lifted a note, but it sounded great. It was just supposed to be a fun reel for the band. But a month after the official video was released, “The live version” went on line, and sales doubled.

The first time we performed live, we did the song as a finale, and the crowd shouted out “Pull his ear”, and we had no idea what they were talking about. Our drummer needed to explain to Drew and me. We did it again, as they wanted it, with the ear pull, and we brought the house down. As they applauded Drew kissed me. He knew that I was not a girl but he kissed me anyway, just the way a boy kisses a girl.

There is something about performing live in a rock band that is beyond description. I have performed classical music before live audiences, some very large, many times, from when I was very young, but it is nothing like rock. In all music you draw from your audience the strength to do well, but with rock the raw power is intoxicating. The audience is younger, that is true, but more importantly they are involved. Performing classical music in front of an educated and appreciative crowd is satisfying, but it is not the same.

That experience stole my soul that night. I would never go back to being Mitchell Lawry, the oldest boy soprano ever. His existence had gone on too long anyway. Voices break, and castrati are thankfully a thing of the distant past. It was unrealistic that it should continue to use that voice. I wondered that even fans of Mitch Lawry might be relieved that he was finally free to live life as an adult.

But that adult life would never be as Mitch. The voice never broke. It never has. Michelle Jacobs used that voice to great effect for many years, but even that had to end. It ended long after the surgery and my marriage to Drew. It ended only when we adopted our children and I chose to stay home to be a wife to my man and a mother to them.

I no longer perform, but I stay involved. Drew does more producing these days, and he always seeks my advice when he thinks that my training in classical music might add an edge. I pride myself that my small contribution allows him to stay ahead of the game in what is a very competitive industry. He and the children are now my focus.

And I still sing, but just for them.

The End

© Maryanne Peters 2018



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