Thinking about music …

Okay, more specif­i­cal­ly, mak­ing music. As in, why I’m not doing it more often. I don’t mean stuff like the Girl Scout meet­ing. And singing along with the stereo does not, in fact, count, nor does singing in the show­er (to me, I’m just talk­ing about me, I’m not stu­pid enough to think that my stan­dards apply to any­body else, okay?). I’m hav­ing a very bad pain day (due to the whole fibromyal­gia thing and not sleep­ing well last night) and think­ing out loud (even in text) some­times helps me to dis­tract myself from it.

I think there’s prob­a­bly a whole mess of reasons—lack of ener­gy, being an intro­vert who has to be real­ly moti­vat­ed to leave the house, gen­er­al busy-ness, lack of con­tacts with oth­er peo­ple who are will­ing and ready to make music when I am, being inse­cure due to being out of prac­tice, a major pho­bia about rejec­tion, and an unfor­tu­nate ten­den­cy to a lit­tle elit­ist about mak­ing music.

I have a good voice and a pret­ty good range (sev­er­al strong octaves, down from what I had but not too bad any­way) despite being way out of prac­tice from not mak­ing music reg­u­lar­ly for many years now. I read music and sight-read fair­ly well, pick up any­thing I hear pret­ty quick­ly, and am learn­ing to sing har­mo­ny (I grew up sopra­no, we sel­dom get to do har­mo­ny). I still know how to play the piano and the flute, but I would­n’t do either pub­licly. I haven’t had a piano to prac­tice on reg­u­lar­ly since I left my par­ents’ home at 17, and I did­n’t real­ly like the flute that much when I did play it (mid­dle and high school band). Throw in the per­ma­nent­ly-numb left hand and I don’t think I’m going to become A Musi­cian any time soon. I’m a singer, that’s it. Do I still get to call myself a singer if I don’t do it often?

I was raised as a deep-water South­ern Bap­tist. Mak­ing music was real­ly the clos­est thing to an ecsta­t­ic expe­ri­ence that was­n’t sin­ful (the right kind of music, in church, of course). Most of my moth­er’s extend­ed fam­i­ly makes music as eas­i­ly as they breathe. Har­mo­ny just hap­pens around them. I love gospel music—it feels like home. Weird taste for a UU pagan, but there ya go. I can­not remem­ber a time before I was in a chil­dren’s choir—I have clear mem­o­ries of singing in the choir in front of the church when I was about 3. I stayed with it—the only part of church I did­n’t absolute­ly hate—until I left the church com­plete­ly in my ear­ly 20s. I accom­pa­nied and led chil­dren’s and senior cit­i­zens’ choirs as a teen.

I did­n’t sing out­side of church until some­time in the 6th grade or so, I think. The choir direc­tor at school yelled at me because I was­n’t SUPPOSED to have vibra­to because I was­n’t old enough. And she seemed not to like kids who could read music—go fig­ure. I dropped out of the choir after a few weeks of her. 

I did­n’t try it again until I got a wild hair in high school and tried out for the mixed per­form­ing cho­rus because I liked some of the music they were rehears­ing. I got in despite their rules say­ing you had to spend at least a year singing in the no-audi­tion-required-yes-we-suck choir for at least a year first, then prefer­ably spend anoth­er year in the girls-only-by-audi­tion-we’re-awful­ly-bor­ing-and-cliquish group. I explained to the direc­tor that I was inter­est­ed in the mixed group, noth­ing else, and would­n’t be singing in any of the oth­er groups. He let me in. It was a good expe­ri­ence. I even got into the All-State Cho­rus, more fun though the audi­tion scared the heck out of me.

I’ve nev­er liked singing with peo­ple who don’t do it well. It’s a prob­lem in church groups because they’re almost always based on a “come join us no mat­ter what!” premise. I’m sor­ry, but some peo­ple should be lis­ten­ers. I know quite well that many peo­ple can, in fact, sing quite well but don’t real­ize it, and that almost any­one can be taught to car­ry a tune. There’s not a whole lot of teach­ing going on in most church choirs, and the direc­tors sel­dom have the time or ener­gy to go teach some enthu­si­as­tic, loud, but darn near tone-deaf peo­ple to find the note, much less stay on it. How many of them have the back­ground to do it if they have the time or ener­gy? I’ve nev­er actu­al­ly told one of those peo­ple that she should­n’t be there, but hav­ing to lis­ten to them tends to put me off even lis­ten­ing to the choir dur­ing church ser­vices, much less singing with them. Yes, if I were able to view it as a way of wor­ship­ping and divorce it from the whole idea of per­form­ing, I’d be much bet­ter off. I haven’t man­aged it yet.

A few years ago I attend­ed and enjoyed an Omega Insti­tute work­shop called “No Wrong Notes” led by David Roth. It was a good expe­ri­ence, but I’m afraid I have to dis­agree with David—there are some wrong notes, and there are some bad voic­es. I don’t think hav­ing a good voice is some­thing to be proud of—it isn’t real­ly some­thing you can con­trol (beyond train­ing stuff, I mean). You are either born with a pleas­ant, strong voice and a good sense of pitch, or you aren’t. What you do with that voice is up to you, but if you aren’t born with the abil­i­ty, you can’t cre­ate it in your­self. It’s like eye col­or or height — just there, some­thing you got through genet­ic roulette. But if you got a crap­py voice in the lot­tery, please don’t sing. At least, not in a choir. Sing in the con­gre­ga­tion, sing to and with your kids, in the show­er, what­ev­er; don’t try to perform.

I also attend­ed one of Elise Wit­t’s “Singing for Fun” work­shops over a week­end two years ago. No audi­tions or pri­or expe­ri­ence were required, but I guess the com­bi­na­tion of pay­ing for it and the dri­ve to the remote loca­tion may have caused some self-selec­tion. Every­body was good. Every­body was focused. Some incred­i­ble music hap­pened that week­end in groups, both for­mal­ly and in a jam ses­sion. I did some impro­vi­sa­tion for the first time—I don’t even LIKE impro­vi­sa­tion, but what hap­pened with the two peo­ple I was ran­dom­ly assigned to sing with, feed­ing off each oth­er and respond­ing to each oth­er in some­thing that I can only liken to the most incred­i­ble sex you’ve ever had—wow. I’d give a lot to have that on a reg­u­lar basis. We were singing in front of every­body else in the group, but for the first time ever I total­ly for­got about any­thing but the music, the peo­ple I was singing with—I was just com­plete­ly, entire­ly, there. No self-con­scious­ness, no wor­ry, no think­ing about what would come next because what­ev­er it was would come as it was sup­posed to because that’s what was hap­pen­ing. And it end­ed well, togeth­er, in har­mo­ny, with no pri­or dis­cus­sion, arrange­ment, or real signal—it just came to the end it was sup­posed to have and there it was.

I worked with pre­cise­ly one real­ly good music direc­tor in all my years of church music involve­ment. One and only one. His name is John Davis and he went off to fin­ish a grad­u­ate degree in music and is, I think, teach­ing at a col­lege in Alaba­ma now. He demand­ed a very high stan­dard from his youth and adult choirs, he worked very hard with them in groups and as indi­vid­u­als, and he got remark­able results. He was a rar­i­ty and I hope, wher­ev­er he is, that he knows how incred­i­ble he is. I stuck with that church (and Chris­t­ian church­es in gen­er­al) sev­er­al years longer than I prob­a­bly would have oth­er­wise due to him.

There are sev­er­al cho­rus­es around town that I could join. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the only one I know of that’s any­thing like con­ve­nient to me does­n’t require audi­tions. While I get real­ly ner­vous about audi­tions and hate rejec­tions, I’d rather go through the stress of an audi­tion and be part of a group that’s worth hear­ing than be part of some­thing that sucks or is even sim­ply mediocre. Some of the oth­ers that require auditions—well, I just don’t actu­al­ly enjoy the kinds of music they do. Why both­er if I won’t enjoy it?

There are two month­ly folk-singing meets that I know of and have attend­ed and enjoyed. There are also month­ly house­filks. I know a lot more of the songs the first two do (most­ly stuff from Rise Up Singing) than the filk stuff, and I feel uncom­fort­able at the filks because every­body else does seem to know the music and I don’t. And I feel fair­ly out of place because I don’t play an instru­ment, when most every­one else seems to have SOMETHING in hand—a gui­tar, some sort of rhythm thing, etc. Being around with noth­ing but my voice feels akin to show­ing up emp­ty-hand­ed at a potluck.

But none of those three month­ly events actu­al­ly does a thing for my need to make music, actu­al music on pur­pose that you work on and can be proud of as a result. I don’t actu­al­ly need to per­form in front of an audi­ence as much as I need the feel­ing of com­ing togeth­er and cre­at­ing some­thing beau­ti­ful. I’ve done a lot of solos in the past, and am com­ing to real­ize that I did­n’t enjoy them near­ly as much as ensem­bles anyway.

I haven’t attend­ed a choir prac­tice in our new UU con­gre­ga­tion yet due to a sched­ul­ing con­flict. Next week the sched­ul­ing con­flict is gone, so I’ll go try it. Some­how every time the full choir has per­formed I’ve missed it, too. The small groups I’ve seen per­form­ing have been real­ly good, though. And every­thing I’ve heard about the music direc­tor has been very good. 

I actu­al­ly spoke to a woman who was pulling togeth­er a gospel quar­tet a few months ago and was going to go audi­tion. I felt good about the stan­dards she’d set and what I heard of her music. I was uneasy about being hyp­o­crit­i­cal because the more I talked with her the more obvi­ous it became that she was a very gung-ho charis­mat­ic Chris­t­ian who was see­ing the group as “a min­istry” and a chance to “wit­ness” to more peo­ple. I just want­ed to make music. I fig­ured that find­ing out that I’m “liv­ing in sin” with Sam prob­a­bly would­n’t go over well, much less the whole pagan poly thing or many oth­er details about my life. As it turned out, my old car died and I could­n’t get to the audi­tion, and I could­n’t remem­ber what I did with her phone num­ber after I got a new car a few days lat­er. Maybe I’ll find a non-wit­ness­ing small gospel ensem­ble some­day? That would be just about per­fect. I can cer­tain­ly sing gospel music with no sense of hypocrisy as long as there’s no impres­sion that I’m doing it to pro­mote the the­ol­o­gy in the lyrics.

Maybe some­day there’ll be a pagan gospel group around here. Gaia Con­sort comes close. They seem to be pret­ty full-up with singers and they are from the pacif­ic north­west, nowhere near Atlanta. I’ll just have to set­tle for singing along with their CDs and hope to see them live some­day for now.

I know peo­ple who live for music. It’s their pas­sion. And I know I’ll nev­er be one of them. They have that dri­ve that makes them have to make music every day, day in, day out. They write music, cre­ate some­thing total­ly new. They will go out and do what­ev­er it takes to make it a career. And I know that isn’t me. I’m not that pas­sion­ate about it. Music is impor­tant to me, but it isn’t a voca­tion. On some lev­el, that feels like some­thing of a fail­ure. On anoth­er, I know that I’m pret­ty darned hap­py with the life I have, and would­n’t be able to spend near­ly as much time with my fam­i­ly if I even tried to do any­thing close to what those Real Musi­cians do. Oh well.

Cur­rent Mood: 🤔pen­sive
Cur­rent Music: Three by The Flirtations
Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
Posts created 4259

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