Jeani Spannard Driscoll, who says she can teach anyone to sing through her business, Singing in the Shower
Rochester Magazine: For our meeting [we’re at Victoria’s], you described yourself as “the red haired lady with the brightly colored outfits.” Is that always the case?
Jeani Spannard Driscoll: This is my Singing in the Shower suit. When I was starting this business [www.singingintheshower.org], I met with a lady at the small business development center. She came up with this idea, that I would wear the same outfit whenever I was out performing. She said you want to have something quirky. It’s a way to set the mood.
RM: Lisa, our art director, said there’s no way you could teach her to sing.
JSD: I can. Fifty percent of people at some point have been told “Don’t sing, mouth the words, you can’t carry a tune.” People who have been told that stop trying. The groups I run are specifically for people who say they can’t sing. We talk about that fact that if you really are tone deaf everyone would sound the same to you. In 25 years, I’ve had one guy who was tone deaf and that’s because he had hearing problems. I’m also a clinical social worker. The experience of people getting together in a group with people in the same situation is very positive. They draw courage from each other.
RM: I brought a list of songs I’d like to learn, that hopefully will fit my range: “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston. “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice. And something by Mariah Carey. Is that a good list for me?
JSD: Sure. Find the songs you like. Listen to them. Get lyric sheets. Just sit and sing along. See what that feels like.
RM: I think it would feel bad for me to try and sing those. I’ve only done karaoke once and it was to “Baby Got Back.” With my boss. At an office Christmas party. In the middle of the afternoon.
JSD: Oh that’s too funny! Singing is natural. I know you can learn these.
RM: Give me a good story about a time you’ve helped someone with singing.
JSD: There was a girl who had addiction problems. In the beginning I wasn’t a therapist, I was just trying to help people learn to sing. But I found that people would come to me and talk. She said, “Singing is my new drug.” There’s a place for talk therapy, but there’s also a place for developing something that makes people feel good. A lot of times that can do more for them than talking about things that make people sad.
RM: Tell me about Oct. 24, 2016?
JSD: I woke up and my face was half collapsed. It was Bell’s Palsy. I had Bell’s Palsy once before, so I knew. It had been slowly coming back over a year. At the time my husband was in the hospital, too. I didn’t allow myself to consider that it wouldn’t go away.
RM: You didn’t let it slow you down.
JSD: No. I kept performing. I posted videos of me performing with it, with half of my face drooping. I decided even if it doesn’t help anyone else, it’s helping me. The response from the videos was very positive. The palsy is almost gone. It’s getting a lot better.
RM: Tell me about the carbon monoxide incident.
JSD: Wow. How do you know all this? My dad and my Uncle Jim were in college. This was in the 1950s. They were asleep in the farm house, everything was shut up tight. A malfunctioning gas refrigerator caused carbon monoxide to fill the house. My grandpa found them the next morning and carried them to the old truck and drove them to town [Williston, ND]. The nurse said, “There’s no use preparing a bed, they won’t make it through the night.” The people in the town had a prayer chain at the church, praying around the clock for my dad and Uncle Jim. They were in a coma for a month. Then they each woke up. It was a miracle. The family took them home, and worked together to re-teach them how to eat, walk, talk, everything. It was a real, true miracle. They both got married and had families.
RM: You have what you call “a big, blended, diverse family”?
JSD: When my husband and I married, I was 29 and had two boys. My husband had four kids. One girl. We had custody of all but one. Then we had a baby. We have seven kids altogether.
RM: What’s one thing you do that drives your husband crazy?
JSD: Talk all the time.
RM: OK. What else?
JSD: When people in my family ask why I did something, I always say, “Because I’m Jeani.” Also, in my family, I started the saying “whoopsie doodle!” If something happens in life and you can’t do anything about it, say “whoopsie doodle!”
RM: Okey dokey. You moved here in 2013?
JSD: We came out for my husband to be evaluated for transplant. He was so profoundly ill. I would push him around in the wheelchair and he couldn’t stay awake. We decided he probably wouldn’t survive if we didn’t come here. We didn’t have a lot of resources. I remember going through our stuff saying, “Do I need this in Rochester? Nope.” We moved here and lived in the old town hall apartments. It’s one room. You share a kitchen with different people. Lots of interesting people there. We met people from 33 countries in the year-and-a-half we were there. It was a neat time. Kind of like living in the dorms.
RM: Oh, I almost forgot. If I took the class, would we be in the shower together?
JSD: Not the first time.
RM: Good to know.
JSD: That’s an honest mistake.
RM: Whoopsie doodle.
JSD: Yes. Whoopsie doodle!