When I watch "American Idol," I identify with the contestants who inspire eyeball rolling and snickering. It takes time for some of us to realize that promoting our musical gift is a good thing - if we have one.
As a young child, I believed I should share my special abilities whenever and wherever possible. I formed this philosophy from two unrelated Sunday school experiences: hearing a parable about buried talents and singing a song about a little light.
"Hide it under a bushel, no! I'm gonna let it shine!"
I assumed the light I should shine was the talent I shouldn't bury. I knew about talents. We had assemblies at school where the older students tap-danced, played the accordion and attempted to yodel. I wondered what my talent could be.
While other family members received praise for their soaring voices, my attempts at melodiousness caused merriment in some and fear I wouldn't stop in others.
Convinced my singing was better off under a bushel, I looked for a different talent.
Many of my third-grade friends studied piano. While I envied the important-looking satchels filled with music they carried on lesson day, I never thought of learning to play.
Then, one Sunday I watched teenage perfection, Mavis Beck, with queenly posture and slender fingers, execute a dizzying rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee.
I wanted that talent.
Mom agreed I could take piano lessons. She enrolled me with Mrs. Rowe, a patient lady with an imposing bosom who shed talcum powder as she sat beside me on the piano bench and did her best.
I pounded away at the keyboard for a couple of years, earning gold, saliva-smudged stars on mastered pieces, before deciding it was time to debut. I began to badger my mother about playing in church. With what I saw as unseemly reluctance, she secured an invitation for me to perform during evening services.
Mrs. Rowe recommended I play "March of the Wooden Soldiers" because I thumped it out with fine martial fervor. I tortured my family for two weeks with its four-page arrangement, practicing it again and again, demanding a critique after each repetition.
Finally, I had it - except for the last five measures. They contained a scale quickly rippling down three octaves, followed by a series of resounding chords. I habitually bumbled the opening notes of the scale and had to start again.
I ran out of time before I could correct this glitch.
On Sunday evening, I donned a pink, dotted-Swiss dress Mom made for my debut and writhed in a pew until my solo was announced. Face fiery red, I walked forever through somber silence to the piano.
I plopped down, peered at unrecognizable notes and sounded the opening chords, my heart leaping so high it clogged my sinuses.
The strange surroundings closed in, narrowing my vision, causing me to pant with claustrophobia and drip with sweat. But I didn't falter. The wooden soldiers and I marched on and on and on and on toward the final measures.
Five notes later, my little finger failed to bridge over my thumb. Silence reigned. I started again. Again, I tripped on my thumb. Sinking so low my chin rested on middle C, I tried once more. And finished.
Mom assured me no one noticed. My younger sister said she thought I was supposed to stumble around at the end, sort of like one soldier was drunk. I said nothing, just crawled back under my bushel.
Today I realize I was ahead of my time with my compulsion to showcase minimal skill.
I would have been a perfect candidate for "America's Got Talent."