Thursday, December 9, 2010

You DON'T Know What You've Got till It's Gone

Okay, some of you had heard some of this already... I haven't always been a vocalist. I specifically joined band as a kid because I wanted to learn music and my parents told me I had a terrible voice. Fast forward to college - turns out parents don't know everything (shhh... don't tell my kids), and voice lessons launched a hot new pursuit, one that would turn out to be somewhat lucrative a times.

But this isn't a post about bad parenting. Through all the years that I studied and performed, I never once truly felt satisfied with my voice. There was always someone who could sing higher or some aria that eluded my skill level. There was always that brass ring, mocking and taunting. For the greater part of 25 years, I simply couldn't accept that I really could sing. And sing well. At times that pursuit of excellence drove me harder and helped me achieve more. Most of the time, though, it manifested into a fear of failure, keeping me from putting myself out there.

And now those years seem wasted.

A few years ago I began to experience some very real hormonal changes. Not in that wanna-rip-off-someone's-head way. Instead, my body took aim at my voice. The upper end of my range has dropped significantly, while the lower end has expanded. The texture or "color" of my voice has become somewhat unrecognizable to me. I was once a lyric coloratura soprano. That is no longer the case. For the first time in my life, I have to care about the how high a piece goes.

Those years seem wasted because I never realized that what I was able to do was special. To me it was always "not enough." Now that I no longer have it, I have learned to accept that I had a gift. A gift in the very real sense - I did not earn it, it was given to me. And it was taken away for some reason, perhaps because I did not have the right appreciation for it.

I'm in the throes of a grieving process, and when I work through it, I will have to learn how to make what I have left into something good. Somehow I will have to find beauty in a thing that was never beautiful to me before. If I manage to learn anything from this experience, I hope it is how to redefine myself, change the way I view my gifts. I hope that as my new vocal skills grow, my self-acceptance grows as well . I hope that, this time, when someone tells me I have touched them with my voice, I will actually hear them.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Jubilate Deo Is Not a Football Cheer

I attended my daughter's choir concert last evening. She is in the school honor choir (an audition choir) and the sixth grade choir. They sang so sweetly - at least what I was able to hear.

Although I had a primo seat - third row near the center - and the choir was sufficiently large, I had a hard time hearing the music over the incessant talking. There were two young girls zipping back and forth in front of us, giggling and talking throughout the performance. I never saw a parent ask them to sit quietly. That does not surprise me, because the adults were louder than the children.

If the grown ups had been overcome with pride and unable to contain their praise for their children, I would have understood that completely. But that was not the case at all. The woman behind me was asking a family member about their next get together. Another woman was scoffing at the PTA, wondering what on earth they spend their money on. And of course there were the scores of fussy toddlers whose parents failed to take out into the hallway.

I was so disappointed. Again.

My daughters are quite active in the arts, and we attend lots of choir, band, and dance performances. This is not the first time I've experienced this. Okay, so maybe you don't really care about music or dancing. Maybe you only showed up so that your child would feel supported. But you know what? Your child worked really hard, for many, many hours, preparing for his performance. Your child memorized lyrics in a foreign language and behaved impeccably on stage. Do you not have enough respect for your child to sit and listen quietly? Will you honestly be able to tell your kid that you heard how well she sang? Do you turn away from your ball game when your child brings you his report card?

Make no mistake - I LOVE sports. My college alma mater enters the play offs this Saturday, and I'm trying to figure out how to teleport myself to Nacogdoches and be back in time for a dance performance. You know what else? Fine arts performances are not sporting events. It is poor etiquette to "shout out" in the middle of a sacred composition. It seems as a society we've forgotten how to sit still and be quiet and absorb the good stuff that is all around us. We seem to need to be stimulated every minute of every day. We need to feel a part of the action, I guess. This is not balanced.

I learned at a young age that if you are still and allow music (or visual arts) to envelope you, you can indeed become "part of the action." That the vibrations in musical tones can permeate your very body cells and stimulate you in a way you never imagined. That gazing upon color or motion can stir something inside.

I work with kids on occasion. I understand that they need to blow off steam and find outlets for their energy. And they also need to learn to sit still when the situation calls for it. They need to experience the beauty in things that are not flashing or ringing or banging. They need adults to show them how. This is balanced.