This Small Room

 

When I was growing up, I lived in a small 3 bedroom ranch house. We had one bathroom, two good sized bedrooms (although neither was particularly large) and a third bedroom which we called the small room.

Until I went to college, I had one of the bigger bedrooms and my sister (who was 8 years younger) had the small room. I commuted to college the first year and then moved to the dorms for my second and third year, coming home most weekends to work, since school was only five miles down the road.

One day during summer break, I came home from going to the Wisconsin State Fair with my friends to find that my sister had moved into my room and that all my things had been put into the small room. I wasn’t informed this would be happening, even though I still had three more weeks before school started, and as much as I protested, I was relegated to the small room for the remainder of the time I would be a resident of that house. Even when I moved back home for my senior year of college. With my stuff crammed into a small dresser that wasn’t mine, my clothes crammed into a too-small closet, and my body up against a wall in a too-small bed.

And for much of my life, I felt contained by my surroundings. I felt that I was too much for my space, for those I grew up with, and even for my family.

Once, long after I’d moved out, I had learned a new aria and was eager to sing it for my mother. After I finished it, she said, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s too loud for this small room.

She didn’t like opera. But I don’t think any room would have been big enough for her to enjoy my singing.

So many of us feel or have felt constrained by rooms that have been too small, whether it’s the actual physical space or the room in our heads, whether it’s through our own perception or that of another person. I haven’t felt that way for a long time now, thank goodness. And if you feel that way ….

Blow off the doors. Knock down the walls.

Thank you, Barbara Cook

[To Terry Gross on FRESH AIR]“When I’m standing in the wings, waiting to go on, I kind of plant my feet and feel a kind of strength coming up from the ground into me. And then I think about giving back this gift that I have been given. And when I do that, then I get out of ego so much. And then I don’t worry so much about what people think about how I sing or how I look. And I just try to sing more deeply and more personally. And I really enjoy that. I love singing. I do. I get rid of so much stuff by singing. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to do.” 

Barbara Cook, 1927-2017

And here’s a recording of her at nearly 80 (picture below to the contrary). The voice stayed fresh (one may quibble about certain closed vowels sounding reedy, but my contention is that those vowels sounded reedy back in the 1950s and that’s a whole ‘nother thing).


She never learned to read music (to which I always say, “and why not?”), which makes her learning the role of Cunegonde in Candide even more mind-boggling. Her career stalled due to alcoholism and obesity, but she reinvented herself and gave back as both a performer and a clinician. 

I’ve always said I want to be Barbara Cook when I grow up. Maybe I still have a shot.