Toto and Me

In sixth grade my choir put on the musical, The Wizard of Oz. I loved to sing but lacked belief in my ability to sing. I felt I got away with singing in a choir because no one could hear me. I recall my choir teacher , Ms. Rose, asking me to try out for a singing part in the musical, specifically the part of Scarecrow but I refused. I was too frightened to sing alone. My younger brother had a beautiful voice and was often asked by relatives to sing and sometimes for me to hush when we were singing together with the radio. I am sure that those experiences did not help with my confidence.

I decided I would only be a part of the large ensemble pieces. When I learned that I had to sing in a small group of students to practice parts, I opted out of that too. I was going to be the only student who would not participate in the musical because I refused to sing when I thought people could hear me.

Ms. Rose was not okay with me sitting out of the production but there was nothing she could do to change my mind. I was terrified to sing. One day she came to practice with a new script. She explained that they needed someone to play Toto. I jumped at the chance. I could be a dog. Dogs don’t have to sing!

For my audition I crawled around on my hands and knees and did my best imitation of a dog’s bark. I even added the little tilt of the head that dog’s sometimes do when they are trying to get your attention. It worked. I was Toto! Of course now I realize that I was going to be Toto whether I had been good at playing a dog or not. Ms. Rose was not going to allow one student to sit on the sidelines.

I practiced and practiced. I tried different barks. I worked on my growl. I studied my dogs at home. I put my heart into the role. When the big night came I was ready. I wasn’t going to play a dog I was going to be a dog. I followed Dorothy everywhere. I growled and barked at the Wicked Witch of the West. I pulled the pants of the monkeys and the guards. I retrieved the oil can that was dropped. People told Ms. Rose how amazed they were at my performance. They asked,” How were you able to get her to act so much like a dog?”

This is both a happy and sad memory for me. I am proud of my role as Toto. I was an excellent dog! I am also sad that I felt so incompetent that I wouldn’t even try to sing. I am grateful to Ms. Rose for finding a way to include me and for encouraging me. She gave me the opportunity to shine in a way that felt safe to me. She also taught me the power of listening deeply, and the importance of understanding and responding to the unspoken need. And for that I am eternally grateful.

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