My dad has many gifts. He’s fluent in several languages and dabbles in a few more. He built his own organ, and he plays it quite well. He can go years without so much as sniffing a driving range, then borrow a rusted-out set of golf clubs and outplay a sad sap who’s been practicing weekly with a new set of Callaways. He has a PhD and is an ordained minister.

But he also happens to have a magnificent voice. Which makes him the closest thing I have to a vocal coach.  Before registering for the National Hollerin’ Contest, I never thought I’d have a need for one. But then I spoke to four-time champion Kevin Jasper. He asked me if I could carry a tune. “That’s all that matters,” Jasper said. “We’ve got some national champions that can’t really carry a tune. If you can carry a tune, you’ll be fine.” The more I thought about it, I realized that singing along with my car radio probably isn’t what Jasper meant by carrying a tune.

My dad, however, has a voice that launched a national opera. It’s true. While my parents were missionaries in Thailand, my dad landed the lead role in the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra’s maiden production of Madame Butterfly. It was 1984, and it was Thailand’s first opera. Ever.

I was only 3, so my memories of his performance as B.F. Pinkerton are fuzzy. I only remember wondering why he was parading around on stage with another woman. And why wasn’t my mom jealous? Fortunately, I don’t need to remember much. A reporter for The Bangkok Post wrote all I really need to know about my dad’s performance.

In the final scene when Butterfly chose to die with honour rather than live in disgrace, Pinkerton’s cry of despair, guilt and shame made the audience forget that they were watching an opera but witnessing a live scene and were moved to tears.

Not only were the reviews good, but check out these pictures from the paper and the program. At 41, my dad looked fitter and better than I do at 29.

Surely I could learn a lot from someone who moved a sold-out audience to tears, even if he’s never hollered. So on Tuesday night, I performed a few short, uncomplicated hollers for my dad. I expected the worst.  Honestly, I welcomed it. Maybe a vocal boot camp was just what I’d need to properly prepare myself for the contest.

Instead, my dad nearly applauded when I finished. OK, I thought, so maybe my hollerin’ is coming along. But what about the crowd? I’m not exactly accustomed to performing in front of an audience. How could I possibly prepare for that? “Practice,” he said. “Practice. Practice. Practice. You practice so much that when you actually perform it just feels like another practice.”

So that’s what I did. I went straight home and practiced. For an hour. By the time I was done, I’d practiced myself silly. So silly that I almost unlearned everything I thought I had learned. On Wednesday night I did the same, and confused myself even more.

Finally, tonight something clicked. I’ll admit, I’m still not much of a threat to the kings of hollerin’, but I’m starting to find my rhythm. Maybe no one will notice that I can’t actually carry a tune.

Check out this video to see some more video footage of me hollerin’. At first, it’s not pretty. Later, it’s slightly better, but still not that pretty.


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