Sing Sing

I have this very childish streak in which if I can’t be brilliant at something, I develop a severe attitude problem. Like learning Japanese. From Year 8 to Year 11, I was top of the class. The teacher adored me. I won prizes.

But then in Year 12, the Fluent Ones came in. These were the kids who used to be in the grade above us, except they spent a year in Japan on exchange and had returned to do Year 12. On day one of the school year, I sat there in a state of panic and they babbled on to the teacher with rapid accuracy. How could I compete with that? They didn’t have to scramble for the dictionary for every word, all those spidery characters made perfect sense to them. They could even crack jokes in Japanese. Which they did often, and only they and the teacher could understand. Which of course meant I would sit and fume some more.

Instead of applying myself to study, I decided my best option was to give up. If I couldn’t be the best, then I would do my best to be the worst. I threw all my energy into English and History and ignored Japanese. In my oral exams, my Nihongo was reduced to, “Umm. Cat. Dog. Let’s go to the museum”.

Then it was Parent Teacher Night. Mum came home and reported, “English, great. History, great. Japanese, Your daughter has developed an attitude problem. What are you going to do about this?”

“I’m not going to do ANYTHING! AH HA HA!” I screamed, and swooped off to my room in melodramatic fashion.

One day my friend Su and I sat in the library for twenty minutes after Japanese class had started, hiding in the shelves and muttering, “I hate Japanese” and “Me too.”

Then we decided we should probably show up. She went, then five minutes later I sauntered in, ignored the teachers hostile expression and said with my nose in the air, “Sorry I’m late!”.

Ohhh yeah! Did I feel like a badass or what?

Until of course, I stumbled over a Fluent One’s backpack and went flying across the classroom and smashed face-first into a poster of Mount Fuji.

Now the same Attitude Problem is developing with my singing classes. We’re in a group of three now, and we sound like gold when we’re in tune. Which is about 10% of the time. The rest of the time consists of our teacher going, “No no no. Stop stop stop. Let’s do that again.”

Which means our progress on The Andrews Sisters hit, Mr Sandman, has been excruciating:

Lesson One: Mr Sandman, bring me a dream.

Lesson Two: Make him the cutest, that I’ve ever seen.

Lesson Three: Give him two lips, like roses and clover.

By Lesson Four I was starting to get cranky. None of us are interested in becoming professionals, we just wanted to make some noise. But the teacher is adamant that we learn correct technique. He’s a nice guy, really. Funny and sweet with cute little dogs and an organic vegie patch out the back. But he demands perfection from people who are not interested in perfection.

Last week he showed us this technique where you have to make your jaw all loose and keep your mouth open wide so you don’t strain so many muscles. It sounded easy. The first Andrews Sister tried it and got it straight away. Then the second tried and was pitch perfect. They squealed and marvelled at what a difference this little technique made.

So of course this was my cue to panic and think fuck fuck fuck fuck! I just know I am going to screw it up.

Which I did.

“Relax your jaw!” my teacher was saying. “Open your mouth! Relax!”

“Muuhh-kay” I mumbled, face contorting.

“Put your tongue into the E position!”

“Wuh’s E puhsishen?”

“Like this! Now, do your scale.”

“Ah Ah Ah Ah — Huh can’t”

“You’re closing your jaw! Try again!”

Over and over and over we went. I could not get it right. And so my temper began to boil.

Suddenly he decided the only way I was going to learn was to sing with a WHITEBOARD MARKER shoved between my teeth.

“You have got to be joking!”

“No! Put it in your mouth! It’s clean! If this is the only way I can get you to keep your mouth open, so be it.”

So off I went again on my scales.

“That’s a little better, but you need to be louder.”

I yanked out the marker and perched in my fingers like a cigar, tapping my foot and glaring.

“No no no! Put it back in! Do it again!”


Six garbled attempts later, he finally sighed, “Can you practice this at home? Ten minutes a day? Please? Can you do this for me?”

“Can I do this for you? I’ve never heard that from anyone but my mother before. Can you do this for me? That’s all I ask! It’s the least you could do for your poor mother.

He snatched the marker from my mouth. “You’re a dork.”

I don’t know how this will all end.

Five years of Japanese ended with me writing “I HATE JAPANESE!” on my HSC Written Exam (in Nihongo). Perhaps my grand finale will involve me sneaking into the teachers garden at midnight to chop the tops off his organic carrots and or kicking his tiny dogs. More likely, I will just simmer and sulk and sing very, very horribly until it’s all over.

About Shauna Reid

Ahoy there! I’m Shauna, an author, copywriter and content mentor. I love telling stories about life and helping others to tell theirs.

Find out more about me and how we can work together – I’m now booking for October 2021.

28 thoughts on “Sing Sing

  1. yes but when he’s not humiliating us he is so funny and adorable. and he gave us all a lettuce from his garden! it would have been delicious, except i accidentally left it out of the fridge and turned to a pulp in this godawful weather.

  2. yes, but I assume you’re paying good money for these lessons… *damn! another mum’s-voice-coming-out-of-my-keyborad-moment*

    I dunno. If you just want to sing for yourself, you don’t have to put up with it… If it’s just a hobby, you don’t have to be the best in the whole world *and all my friends are now laughing something about pots and kettles*

  3. you people do know i just write about things that happen just because i think they’re funny? i mean, i don’t really care about the singing, i’m not at all traumatised. i don’t mind the humiliation because it’s something funny i can write about later on.

  4. Reading that, I found myself trying to relax my jaw, wondering what it was your singing teacher was getting at. All I think I managed to do was to look like a gormless mouth-breather.

    Perhaps it’s one of those things where ‘trying’ and ‘doing’ are the wrong words? Perhaps it’s a matter of not doing something that’s normally done? ‘Trying to relax’ is, after all, something of a contradiction in terms. Sounds to me like your singing teacher was taking a rather counterproductive approach!

    Anyway, I’ve heard of singing teachers getting their students to do what seem to be humiliating and embarassing (or just simply weird) things a number of times (including trying to sing with objects in their mouths). Usually, I hear of such things from singers (often professional) who at the time felt like lemons, but ended up looking back on such experiences with new appreciation, having found that those techniques actually helped them to become better singers than they ever would have been otherwise. It seems to be quite a common thing – perhaps your fellow singing students are yet to encounter their personal singing challenges?

    So, stick with it, and enjoy making lots of noise with pens in your mouth! 😀

  5. I have similar whines about my school years learning German. I had the misfortune of getting glandular fever (mysteriously) in year 11 when I was the class star and then after a few months away I came back to find that I was the stoopid one. So instead of accepting my slighty pervy teacher’s offer of after school ‘tutoring’ I quit. Oh the regrets. Ich bin ein unkluges Mädchen.

  6. mine came in my second year of college japanese, when i just started writing shit in english on tests like “what are all these squiggily lines?” and “am i drunk, ’cause i can’t understand a word you say” and “we live in georgia, speak english, man” and, of course, the simple “i have no idea what any of this means, and frankly, at this point i just don’t care”

    how i managed a b, i’ll never know

  7. hehe 🙂 but the writing ROCKS! didn’t you find that bit fun? i can still write in japanese easily. well, i should say, i can DRAW the letters. i can’t actually write anything from scratch. except for “hello my name is shauna. i have two sisters and one brother. i am a maths teacher. i like sushi.”.

  8. I got an ‘E’ for GCSE French (and that was the first year they did GCSEs, before they watered them down even further). I’m sure I actually knew less French by the time I did those exams than two years earlier!

    Bon jour! J’em appelle Simon. J’ai trentre ans. J’habite Essex, dans Angleterre. Mon chat, Tigger, est dans l’hopital d’animaux (c’est vrai!). Je voudrais un glace, s’il vous plait.

    And that’s about all I can manage – and I’m sure I’ve made some really basic errors!

    But yeah, everyone should have at least one school subject they did badly in, or got disillusioned with, or whatever. It’s normal, and healthy, and a sign of a well-rounded education in which the student was not afraid to try different things and be challenged.

  9. Ha, ha! I remember French in Year 8. How we laughed and laughed! I can even read Simon’s French!

    Hello! M yn ame is Simon. I’m 30 years old. I live in Essex, in England. My cat, Tigger, is in the animal hospital (it’s true!) I would like an icecream, please.

    I still crack up at some of the “useful” things we learnt from our French phrase book. Like how to say “Excuse me, but my caravan is burning.” Or maybe: “No. I don’t want it extracted. Please give me an anaesthetic.”

  10. How true Simon. Even I, the great French master managed to get all A’s througout French and still, the Advanced Placement test comes along; ever one of my classmates and I get a 1 (on a scale from 1-5, 5 being awesome).

  11. i just love the teacher’s retort ‘you are a dork’. how old is this man?

    for a more divisive retort of your own, whiteboard markers up dog’s arses would be a poetic statement.

    [please do not attack me dog lovers]

  12. oh shauny how I wish I didn’t relate to your attitude problem so bloody well. I think it’s about letting go of pride and getting in lots of sneaky practice in the privacy of your own home.

    [scotty: do you have a dog’s ass?]

  13. Despite three or so years of Spanish, I can just barely manage to order a burrito or mention something naughty about an annoying customer’s mother in the Mission. My problem with other languages is that I learn the dirty words first. And then I begin considering what sorts of puns and wordplay might be available. Only after this does the conjugation follow.

    Of course, if more language teachers taught their classes topless, perhaps I’d become desensitized to the more lascivious aspects of language and actually learn it proper!

    I’m going to try taking a French class in January. At the very least, if I’m lucky, I might be able to persuade another student to learn topless. Isn’t that what erudition is all about?

  14. I had two years of Japanese in high school and all I remember is (spelling maybe a bit off):

    Empitzuo kazutimo edeska.


    Chotto mat ta kudesi!

    Let me know if you need to know what I was attempting to say.

  15. Oh God. Not THE FLUENT ONES. I hate them. Kill them! If we could just get rid of THE FLUENT ONES…ah, how much better we all would feel.

  16. Wow, my name’s Lisa, too. lol

    Chotto matte kudesai….er…please wait?

    I’ve never taken Japanese classes…I’ve just sorta learned some random phrases through exposure to Anime. I was really thinking about taking classes, though.

    It’s pretty neat that schools are offering many different languages. When I went they only offered Espaniol and Francais.

    Anyway, don’t give up on the singing, Shauny. It sounds fun, despite the pen incident. ^^

  17. but keep on singing, shauny! he’s only doing it cos he knows you have potential.

    keep on truckin’ in the most andrews sisters way you can.

  18. I so want to learn Japanese so I can be all snobby when watching anime. “oh, no,” I’ll say, “that’s not what he said!” and people will love me, and give me cuddles.

  19. Konnichi wa, watashi wa Saara desu, doozoo yoroshiku. Canberra no Hacketto ni sundeimasu.
    Watashi no kazoku wa san nin desu. Mango ga sukidesu.

  20. I can relate to not wanting to do anything if you can’t do it well. Damn pride – it always get in the way. My theory was always “Well I might be crap but at least I didn’t try!” — I have since realised how absolutely stupid that attitude was, but it’s a bit late now.

    My worst ‘attitude’ subject was Chemistry. After being top of the school in year 11 I spent year 12 writing my notes with my left hand as neatly as I could (I’m right handed… needless to say most lessons I only managed a few lines). Somehow I managed to get through the entire semester not knowing what a lipid was — I found out the day before the exam it was just fat! Somehow I still scraped a B+ though…

  21. FYI, all of you people who learn Japanese so that you can be snobby about Anime cartoons are, contrary to your delusions, not impressing anyone with anything except the fact that you are desperate for attention.

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