"I ’m an alto,” my new student said to me as she walked into my recording studio.

“Hmmm,” I said. “Let’s try you out.”

Though she was a new student for me, this was a mature woman with grandchildren. She’d decided the time had come for her to train her voice, and so she had come to me, a professional vocal coach. For 60 years, this woman had enjoyed singing, but had always thought she had a voice with a lower range.

After a warm up and some scales, I was able to challenge her: “You’re a soprano,” I said. Over the weeks that followed, she learned she had an entire range to her voice that she’d never dreamed of. I trained her to sing a beautiful and demanding song for a recital, and her mother, who was in her eighties, came to hear her daughter sing.

To me, it wasn’t a surprise. It’s kind of like what I do with all my students — bring out what’s hidden. And really, at the root, it’s what happened in my own life.

I was brought up in a small town in New York State with a Catholic father and a Jewish mother. Our yearly cycle was interesting: we celebrated Pesach and Easter, Chanukah and Xmas. Still, my mother put down some very strong boundaries: Although my father went to services each Sunday, we never went along. And she never served pork or other forbidden meats.

My father was a very difficult person, but I had another influence in my life — my grandfather, my mother’s father. Always a seeker, when he was 40 years old he picked up a Chumash at random — and the rest is history. He was deeply religious, a gentle, thoughtful man. He wrote. A lot. Books and books of his learning and his values — “You’ll find me in my books,” he always told us. We were connected to him through his thoughts and words.

He was also a giver. So much so that one day he arrived home without any shoes. When my grandmother questioned him, he explained that he’d met someone destitute who needed a pair. He had taken off his own and handed them to the beggar. He worked on the road, so whenever he saw an accident, he offered his help — a stranger once died in his arms.

I often went to my grandparents for Shabbos, and that’s where I learned about Hashem and the mitzvos. I identified strongly with what my grandfather taught me, and I felt myself to be Jewish. I was even willing to express that difference externally, and pretty soon I was only wearing skirts, even in the public school I attended. Of course, I had to put up with a lot of flak for this, and I became super-quiet.

When I was around 11, my parents divorced. My grandfather had passed away a little before this and it was a very difficult time for me. I turned to Hashem. Every Shabbos morning, I would lock myself into my bedroom and spend the entire morning figuring out how to say the words of Shacharis. I connected to Hashem and it got me through a very difficult time.

I had always been quiet, an observer, but my lack of confidence meant that I only spoke when I was absolutely sure of what I was saying. Being constantly made fun of in school and dealing with the criticisms of a very harsh father meant that I only opened my mouth if I was very, very sure of what I was going to say. One Sunday morning, I was vacuuming the house, singing to myself. I finished the song and my mother called down the stairs: “What’s that you’re listening to? It’s so pretty.”

“It was me, Mom. I was just singing.”

My mother was shocked. “That was you?” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 555)