3 things I learned from a girl named Elena

I stood there in shock. I hadn’t anticipated hearing the words that I just heard. Yet, deep inside I could not deny the truth being told to me…… “John, have you considered that you aren’t genetically capable of singing the repertoire that you’ve been trying to sing?”….

Let me give you the backstory to this event before I go any further….

Music is part of the Garay DNA. My family is full of musicians, vocalists, and dancers. It was inevitable that, I too, would end up picking up an instrument and take a shot at the microphone. However, while most people in our border-town were listening to the likes of Bronco, Vicente, Selena, and Tigeres del Norte, I developed a taste for R&B and soul music. I spent countless hours in front of my Emerson radio, purchased at Walmart, waiting for Power 102 to play the next jam by Boyz II Men or Jodeci. I’d listen with anticipation, and in the privacy of my bedroom I’d grab my makeshift mic, a.k.a. a broomstick, and hold my own concert for an imaginary audience of thousands of fans. I was a rock star, on top of the world, and loved by many!

My sophomore year of high school I got introduced to gospel choirs. Suddenly, I was tossed into a world of soulful vocal riffs backed up by an organ, bass-guitar, drum-set, colorful choir robes, and tambourines. I upgraded my Emerson radio to a double-deck cassette tape player that constantly played Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond, and Hezekiah Walker. Not only was I a fan, I jumped at every opportunity be part of a gospel ensemble. My freshman year of college, while all my Chicano friends were joining the Estudiantes Unidos club, I joined the Black Allied Students gospel choir. That’s what led to my conversation with Elena. One year into the absolute-best-musical- year-of-my-life, I experienced vocal trauma. My voice just gave out on me and I was unable to sing without sounding like a dying billy-goat. I was embarrassed, traumatized, and saddened by this occurrence.

A few years later I decided to give singing a try again. I called up the New Mexico State University music department and I asked for a recommendation for a vocal coach. They introduced me to Elena. Elena was a Senior at NMSU and was majoring in music. She was attractive, classy, and she could sing the dictionary several times through and you would never get bored. She worked with me for several weeks teaching me vocal warms ups and breathing techniques. Each week she would ask me to bring a song that I wanted to work on. Naturally, I would always bring a gospel piece. This went on for a few weeks until finally she sat me down for a life changing conversation, “John, have you considered that you aren’t genetically capable of singing the repertoire that you’ve been trying to sing?” I could feel my heart beating slow and hard. A lump also began to form in the back of my throat. “John, I’m not trying to discourage you,” Elena said. “You have a beautiful instrument. However, if you don’t take care of your voice, it’s going to go again.” She gracefully went down a list of soul singers whose careers ended before the age of 40. She went on to list all those who had longer careers. I took a moment and swallowed the lump in my throat. She was telling the truth. There was a common denominator in both lists, genetics.

Before anybody gets bent out of shape, I need to tell you that I was not in the least bit offended by what she shared. I also was not resentful. Elena’s reality check taught me 3 very important life lessons. I’d like to take a quick moment to share them with you.

  1. I can’t master everything that I try.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that it is impossible for me to succeed at everything that I do. And yes, I know that self-help gurus claim to that the power of visualization allows you to master everything, “Pero esos son mentiras!!!” I can give you a huge list of things that I haven’t been able to master. However, in that list you will also find some amazing experiences, encounters, and realizations. I may not have mastered everything that I wanted to, but I’ve had one heck of a journey.

  1. Sometimes, that which is appealing to the eye, is actually harmful to me

Elena’s conversation with me broke my heart for a moment. However, I also see that the truth, that she shared, protected my future career. The platform that I work on requires that I have a healthy voice. I would not be effective in my current role had I not listened to her. As much as I wanted to be Shawn Stockman, from Boyz II Men, it just wasn’t a good idea for me.

  1. I have the potential to rock the heck out of things that I’m naturally good at

Mira, a lo mejor no soy Musiq Soulchild, pero I still got some talent in me. Many years have passed since I had that conversation with Elena. Since then I’ve been able to take an honest inventory of my strengths. I’ve discovered that the things that I’m good at are way more valuable, to me, than the things I wish I could be good at. I’ve been able to build on those strengths to find success and to inspire others to find theirs.

Para que no se aguiten… I thought I’d let you know that I still like to make music. Aves me gusta chanel a la Licha LLaves. Disfrutan lo. 😉


John Garay

Photo credit: Foter.com