"She Used to Be Mine", from the musical Waitress is quite possibly one of the most difficult contemporary musical theatre songs I've ever performed. It is an etude in how to navigate the technical challenges of healthy belting, while bearing your soul emotionally.
I have two explanations for why I felt the need to record this song. One is rather a profound confession, and another a flippant avoidance of talking about that confession. So how about we start with the latter.
I am very excited about Broadway and live shows re-surfacing again - it is thrilling to see the live musical world come back to life in the midst of this crazy pandemic and all the uncertainty that seems to still be in the air (literally).
So - why did I record this song specifically?
The musical Waitress, written by and starring Sara Bareilles (whom I adore) is officially back on Broadway, right now (with Sara for a limited time). Cool! So- here's me singin' this show-stopping-heart-wrenching song where Jenna, the waitress with a passion for pie making, is feeling as if she has lost herself. She contemplates what to do for the new life inside her - and the abusive relationship she feels trapped in.
Confession of Envy
The more difficult explanation is that last month, I had the (painful) pleasure of seeing the Chicago Symphony accompany Betsy Wolfe (Broadway star and former Waitress lead who took over for Sara Bareilles) at the Ravinia Festival. While it was certainly a pleasure to listen to Betsy absolutely knock it out of the park with this song there, it was also, well, torturous. To be clear, there was NOTHING wrong with her performance. She is immaculate. -Bear with me -
I haven't really sung, live - with an audience for nearly two years. Exactly two years ago I was nearing the last month of my pregnancy and on the brink of bringing my son into this world- so I was a bit preoccupied and didn't exactly have a lot of performing opportunities lined up for myself. Then- my son was born, and we got out of the first three or four months of newborn stage, and I was juuuuusssst starting to get back into the swing of things vocally and professionally - and then the pandemic hit us like a tsunami wave....taking away with it's wave all of the live entertainment and especially singing (!) opportunities with it, period.
I will spare you the gory details of the toll this took on my mental health (didn't it effect us all?) but suffice it to say, I wasn't doing well. I have since recovered now, miraculously - I think - but there are shreds of me that still seem as raw as they did during my deepest sadness and they resurface from time to time. The performing part of me? -was suffocating. Sure, I had other projects to do during that time, and I thoroughly enjoyed making headway on Sparrow Songs and getting my sheet music available etc. But not performing live?? I felt like a fire that had been starved of oxygen. I felt squelched and choked - I was gasping for air - desperate for a chance to breathe - and I just was not getting anything.
What people who don't perform may not really grasp, is that as a performer- you crave audience connection. And not in the "oh I need all eyes on me" kind of way- that some people assume. I'm sure some performers truly need a regular egotistical boost and need the spotlight. Those kind of performers can be difficult people to be around. Often, they may be insecure or just the kind of people that need attention so much they can completely exhaust everyone around them. I have always strived not to be that way. No, attention-seeking is not what I mean by needing audience connection.
Sprinkled throughout great performances, there are these incredible moments of truth- or gems of transcendency and human connection that can occur. It happens through the sharing of stories, sometimes within sinking walls of vulnerability or pain, or through the laughter that helps alleviate or support people and their pain subsides. Have you ever had chills, or goosebumps during a performance? That's one of those moments. Have you ever been so moved by a performance you sobbed? Or have you experienced eruptive laughter, without regard as to how loud you sounded? That's one of these moments. I'm sure you know what I mean. I feel like these moments allow us to have empathy and allow healing to occur. The world is suffering, in so many ways...these kind of humanitarian moments are balms for the soul. These moments bring more purpose into my life.
As a performer who strives for this, I have always felt that when I'm living these moments- that I'm sharing myself with the audience in a way that feels as natural as breathing. And furthermore- that they are able to actually give back and breathe with me. It's very much like the phrase "I see you" from the movie Avatar. Maybe this is too cheesy for some, but nonetheless - I crave it. ...I crave it because I used to get to have it all the time. I may have even taken it for granted. I miss it so badly when I reflect on it I get a big lump in my throat and start to well-up.
WELL- Ms. Betsy Wolfe that night at Ravinia, was breathing. She was singing away and had the audience with her- right in the palm of her hand. Breathing. And, as much as I wanted to enjoy the transcendence of the moment that she was sharing with her audience - I just felt MORE suffocated, and just found myself aching to breathe. I was envious of her. For the first time ever - I was truly envious of a Broadway performer. I didn't wish her ill, I simply needed what she was doing to be what I was doing.
I have always told myself I would never want to audition for Broadway because
#1, I don't want to live in New York, or do national tours, but more importantly-
#2, I really really don't want to be performing the same show over and over again day in and day out. (also, so many shows a week = no family life)
...but in this moment? If anyone had said I could perform backflips on a unicycle (or anything else impossible that I doubt I could ever accomplish) for a dying audience of worms on the side of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere - I would be down for that. Yes!
Back at Ravinia that night, during this song- the lump in my throat constricted and then gave way to big ol' crocodile tears. A profound sadness erupted from within me as I realized that witnessing other people experiencing what I craved so badly was just so painful. If anyone noticed me while sitting near, they may have thought that I was just really into the song. But I was so far away. Starved to feel what she was feeling. Watching her feel it, was torture.
Then, I told myself I would learn the song she was singing. "She Used to be Mine" had a whole new meaning to me now, as well- as a mom. You don't have to have been in an abusive situation to connect with a song that talks about how much motherhood, or even just getting older, is changing you. ...I will perform the song!
-- and not for worms, either.
For now though, until I can perform it live, I'm sharing it here. Thank you to Larry & Alice Beebe for allowing me to use your recording studio, time, and expertise last week. I will also probably produce a little music video of this cover song soon.
If you feel a connection - would you let me know? I miss my audience. So badly.
Can't wait for some of this coming year's exciting projects and the opportunities to connect again. I have some gigs on the horizon. Thrilled to never take it for granted again.
"Becoming a mother changed me. I have more love, passion, and fulfillment in life; which in turn, enriches my artistry. Please join me in normalizing motherhood within the performing artist's culture."
- Rachel Sparrow
Rachel Sparrow is a professional singer, musician,(violin, piano, ukulele) actor, teacher, arranger, writer, and most importantly: a wife and a mommy of two littles. She loves to help parents make everyday life musical with their kids as well as share backstage stories, and performance experiences here. She earned her Master's degree in Voice Performance from Northwestern University, and also holds two Bachelor's degrees in Voice, and Music Education (certified to teach k-12 vocal & instrumental music) from Idaho State University. She is also a certified Music Together Director (music class for birth-5 yrs). See about Rachel.
"Think Outside Your Box" means 3 things:
1. Be Selfless - think beyond your own "box". (and for singers, there's more to life than your voice box!) You're capable of helping and healing others.
2. Feel Empowered to bust out of the proverbial
"box" made of societally-induced-parameters.
3. Be Bold. Innovate. Stretch yourself. You can do anything if you set your mind to it.