Friday, September 13, 2013

The lovers, the dreamers and me

When I was around 11, the Unitarian Universalist fellowship my family was attending decided they were going to start a children's choir.  This was, of course, a fabulous idea with only one problem: there was nobody to play the piano and nobody who knew how to direct a choir, much less a choir of children, all under age 12, pumped full of crackers with fake cheese on Sunday morning.  (I don't know why, but that was always what they fed us.  You know those little packages of breadstick cracker things with the fake neon cheese on the other side?  That was the highlight of religious education every Sunday).  Some poor soul either got elected to direct us or volunteered out of the goodness of his heart, and the pianists varied from one lady who could SORT-OF read music, to another lady who played everything double speed.  I remember singing "The Rainbow Connection" probably 4 times for the congregation (both the super fast and the wrong-note riddled versions).  My guess is that we made everybody cry the first time we did it.  If you make people cry once, why not go for it again...and again...and again, right? 

I also remember singing "Sing When the Spirit Says Sing."  At 11, I was serious about...well...pretty much everything, so when Patrick, the choir director, told us to put one finger in the air and shake it back and forth and walk around in a little circle while singing "You've gotta dance when the spirit says dance," I wanted to drop out.  I was humiliated.  Neither Patrick nor the pianist had any sense of rhythm, nobody could turn the same direction, 6 year old Eric ran circles around the group of us while
screaming the song, and shaking my finger in the air was about the dumbest thing I could imagine doing.  I stuck it out for the sake of the cause, but I was not pleased.  The final straw came when Patrick asked my sister and I if we would be willing to do two of the songs in American Sign Language as we sang ("Enter, Rejoice and Come In" and "Come, Sing a Song With Me"'s funny how you remember these things).  This was no problem in rehearsal, but come Sunday morning, we had the pianist who played everything double time, and my brain couldn't process singing and signing at that speed.  Humiliate me once, shame on you.  Humiliate me twice, I thought, shame on me.  I was done with choir.  When my sister and I dropped out, the whole thing dissolved and the congregation rejoiced that they never had to hear "Rainbow Connection" again, unless they chose to listen to Kermit the Frog.

I'm not entirely sure what happened after that, but I became extremely self-conscious about singing.  I played piano, and my sister would sing, or I played harp and my sister would sing, but I definitely never (ever) sang.  Even when prompted.  Even when asked.  Even when completely by myself.  I just wouldn't do it.  I can't imagine that Patrick's bad choice in dance moves made me feel that vehemently about never singing again, but I just wouldn't do it.

It's funny, because I can distinctly remember when I started singing again.  I had a car for the first time, and I was driving back and forth between my college and my internship about 30 minutes away, and I started singing -- just softly at first -- along to the radio or my CD of choice.  I realized that was pretty fun, and sang a little louder.  When I sang loud enough to actually hear myself, I realized I could actually kinda match my voice to the notes, I didn't have to do any embarrassing dance moves, and nobody could hear me.  From then on, I sang all the time: in the car, in my dorm room...anywhere nobody could hear me, I would sing, and it made me happy in a way that music has always made me happy.  Playing my harp has always brought me to a place of internal stillness.  I love the way there is nothing but myself and the music and I can lose myself in concentration on the sound and on my fingers.  I love the way, eventually, muscle memory takes over and it's just me sitting inside of the music my fingers are creating.  It still amazes me.

At any rate, in grad school I decided I didn't have enough on my plate and wanted to teach myself to play the guitar.  The cool thing about the guitar as opposed to the harp, I realized, is that you get to sing, too.  I like teaching myself new things, and teaching myself guitar, while getting to sing along, is pretty awesome.  I'm definitely not going on the road anytime soon, but it's enough that I can have fun with it when my sister is around or when I'm by myself and no one can hear.

All of this is just to say that no one is more surprised than me when I decided to join the choir.  It's something I thought about for a long time and always talked myself out of...because...just because.  Because it's hard to think about singing in front of people.  Because it's hard to think about doing something that I don't know for a hard solid fact that I'm good at.  Because there is something about singing that just feels really vulnerable.  Music opens my heart, and creating music with something as personal as my voice feels vaguely frightening.  Exciting frightening.  It makes me kind of nervcited

Mostly, though, joining the choir means joining people in community, and this is hard.  My soul wants and needs this community, but I'm just not good at it.  How do you know you can trust them? my heart asks.  But how do you know?  You've been wrong before, she says.  She can be a bit of a heartless bitch, my heart.  She's working on it, but it's not easy.  But what if you're wrong?  What if they hurt you?  They could hurt you, you know.  You've been wrong before.  You could be wrong, she says.  After listening to these thoughts for a long time, you can come to believe that maybe community just isn't your thing.  That, maybe, you just aren't made to be part of a larger whole.  Maybe you're just not made to be loved and included.  Maybe your love for others just isn't needed or valued. 

And the thing is, she's right.  I could be wrong.  I could get hurt.  You never truly know if you can trust anyone, but what I have determined is that you have to try.  I have to try.  And singing with a bunch of people who can make some beautiful, joyful sound seems like an okay place to start. 

The only way to put it is that singing makes my heart happy.  It's incredible to be in the middle of so many beautiful voices, and to know that I am, in some small way, contributing to the creation of this amazing thing that's unfolding around me.  (Or...once I figure out what notes I have to sing I will be...).  It's like moving from a place where your body feels uninhabitable to a place where your skin suddenly fits and there is a radiance all around you that makes your skin glow as it reflects that light.  You can't help it.  Just like the moon can't help but glow from the light of the sun, when standing in that group one can't help but glow from the light of everything surrounding you.   My mind stops.  All that there is is what is happening then, there, in that room, in the alto section, in my heart and lungs and vocal chords as they join the hearts, lungs, and vocal chords of everyone around me.  It's a group of people gathering, essentially, to create and recreate something beautiful and temporary, purely for the sake of creating.  It is, perhaps, the rainbow connection that brings me into community with the other lovers and dreamers.  I can think of few things more holy. 


  1. I'm glad you're singing in the choir. I'm glad you're taking the risk. Don't worry about trust. Just sing. I'm sure they're glad you're there.

    1. That's the goal! Fortunately, singing is a good thing to do when trying not worrying about things. It's working so far. It's a small risk, but it's a risk...yay for expanding the comfort zone!