Wisdom from What Our Mamas Taught Us: You Sing Better with a Full Orchestra and Pretty Dress

Linda Seger is an international story coach, script and screenplay consultant. This is the story behind an inspirational quote in her book, What Our Mamas Taught Us.

“You always sing better when you have a full orchestra and a pretty dress.”

By Mama Agnes Seger from Linda Seger’s book, What Our  Mamas Taught Us

When I was growing up in the 1950s in my small Wisconsin town of Peshtigo, we would watch the singers on television. They had beautiful voices and they sounded so wonderful. That kind of talent and ability seemed so beyond me but one day, mother, who was also a lovely singer and a music teacher said to me as she was watching these wonderful singers on television, “You always sing better when you have a full orchestra and a pretty dress.” I realized then that many of the people we see doing wonderful things have help. They might have an entourage or they might have a person who knows exactly what clothes the singer should wear or  they might have a hairstylist or they might have the full orchestra that helps them sound better. My mother wasn’t putting down the singers, because she agreed they were wonderful. But she was helping me understand that anything done well was not just an accident. In fact, as I got older and met some people who were great singers are great actors, I realized the amount of time that went into what they did and I began to be more aware of the whole package that makes it possible for people to do this beautiful work.

Years later, I worked with Linda Lavin who had been the star on the television show Alice and who went on for a brilliant Broadway career, winning a Tony award for Broadway Bound. One time when we were working together, she mentioned that she was going to be on the Tonight Show in three weeks. She had sung this number many times but she told me she was practicing five hours a day for three weeks to prepare for her five minute performance. I was astounded. I just presumed that people at her level who had sung the song before warmed up and maybe sang it through a few times with the accompanist and then went on stage. Not true. I realize the amount of preparation that went into doing brilliant work. It wasn’t an accident. Things didn’t just happen. Brilliant performances have a great deal of preparation but they usually also have a full orchestra and a pretty dress.

Wisdom from What Our Mamas Taught Us About Fear

“When you’re afraid of doing something, just remember: if other people have done it before, you can probably do it also.”

By Mama Agnes Thompson from Linda Seger’s book, What Our Mamas Taught Us

When I was seven, my favorite aunt, Aunt Agnes came to visit us in our little town in northern Wisconsin. She had a spirit of adventure, even well into her 80s, and was one of my favorite people. During this visit, she suggested that we go to the park at 6 AM and have a breakfast picnic. We never heard of such a thing but we were game for a bit of adventure. So the next morning we got donuts and milk and took our picnic to the park and sat at a picnic table overlooking the Peshtigo River. She then decided we needed one more adventure for the morning and decided that we would go to the lighthouse on Lake Michigan which was in a neighboring town about 12 miles away. We walked down this long concrete pier to the lighthouse and my aunt knocked on the door. The lighthouse keeper open the door and she said, ” We’d like to see the light house. He said,  “Okay,” and invited us in.

First, he showed us the small living area on the first floor and then we went upstairs to a second floor that had a little balcony. From the balcony, there was a ladder going up to the very top where the big light was kept. I looked up the ladder and I was suddenly very afraid and I told my aunt I didn’t want to go up there. She didn’t say anything but she took my little hands and she put them on the railing and she said, “You stand right here as we go up and we’ll be right back.” There was no judgment, no trying to persuade me but simply a kind acceptance. I watched as my sister and my aunt went up that ladder. They were up there for just a few minutes and came back down. As we were walking down the long concrete pier going back to the car she put her hand on my shoulder and she said, “If you’re afraid of doing something just remember: if other people of done it before, you can probably do it also.”

This piece of advice has worked for me all my life. I travel the world and have been in 34 countries as a speaker. I have written books and have consulted with people from all over the world. I have been with the very poor in the Philippines and in Thailand and I have been with the very wealthy. I have been with famous people and with people not so famous and I have often been intimidated. I have often gone into certain circumstances that were not dangerous but were new and sometimes uncomfortable. At those moments, I remember my Aunt Agnes with her hand on my shoulder telling me not to be afraid because other people have done this as well. I have had a good life of adventure as a result.

~Linda Seger