By Amy Reeves
For the Sentinel 

Where'd that come from?


“Can’t Carry a Tune in a Bucket”


Someone who sings very badly, is tone-deaf or is musically challenged. It is the inability to metaphorically “carry” a tune in a bucket or the inability to be in tune, even with one’s head in a bucket where the acoustics are presumably more favorable.


The word carry is defined as “to transport,” originated in France about 200 years ago. In the 19th century, due to the changing of word meanings in the U.S., the word “carry” also became associated with sound, as in able to be heard. An example would be, “Her voice carried in the wind.”

Other variations of this expression are, “Can’t carry a tune in a basket/barrel/paper sack and bushel basket. In other words, no matter how easy the attempt to try and make it for someone to carry a tune, they simply cannot do it, regardless of all good intentions.

I always tell people that I cannot carry a tune in a bucket. In fact, I do not even have a bucket. I was always the one in church that lip-synced years before it ever became a word in the dictionary. There are just some things you know that you are good at, and then there are things that no matter how many years of practice you put in, you are never going to get good at.

There are some of us who are blessed to be able to sing. You know those types of people who, when they exercise their vocal cords, woodland creatures come to lay down at their feet and listen while the birds sing a beautiful melody to complement the singer. Then there are people like me who end up having Animal Control called because I sound like a wounded animal trapped in my house. I do not mind singing in the shower or the car with the radio up really loud. I even sing to my cats, and they must be tone deaf themselves because they do not seem to mind. Although there was one time I was singing (I am convinced they are telepathic just with each other) when it looked like they were plotting revenge on me.

Not only am I tone deaf, apparently my brain will make up its own versions of what I think I am hearing. When I was younger, I loved the CCR song “Bad Moon Rising.” It was one of the few songs I could sing loud and proud, until one fateful day when my friend Paul and I were driving in downtown Seattle when this song came on the radio. It was July, so we had the windows down, and I started singing, “Don’t go out tonight, there’s bound to be a fight, there’s a bathroom on the right.” (From my research, I am not the only one who thought this). Paul almost drove into the Nordstrom’s showroom windows when he started laughing at me. It wasn’t my voice, it was the words. So not only am I tone deaf, I am acoustically changed in deciphering words that are sung. If I had an outlet to channel my odd voice and made-up songs, I could become the next Weird Al, only I would go by Weird Amy.

Even though singing will never be something I am good at, I did receive one a wonderful compliment. I was told that I sing a great tenor—ten-or fifteen miles away.


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