Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A fool's heart

It is my first day of divinity school, and I have decided I need music in my life. I bike over to the music building and ask an undergrad where the practice rooms are. They are gloriously empty, and I find a beautiful Yamaha and sit down to practice for my choir audition tomorrow. I play through a book of spirituals, trying to pick one that sounds good with my voice range, one that my rusty vocal chords can handle.

I flip to Deep River and blink at the high A on the page, but decide to give it a try anyway. I play the intro and begin. It is a beautiful song, and when I reach the climax-- "that promised land where all is peace" -- I nail the high A. I sing it again, and again, and again, and I am in love with singing, and I am convinced this will be my place of refuge over the next three years. The practice room will be a prayer chapel, a place of worship, a break from heavy words and ideas.

In the afternoon I go back to run through one more time, but the practice rooms are full. Several undergrads wait in the hall. I decide to go home.

I get dinner in the oven and my roommates are gone and John is outside studying on the back porch. I find a the starting pitch on Youtube, and begin my song. I am happy, I am happy, and then I get to that climax again, the one I nailed six times in a row this morning, and I splat. I try again, and that gravelly crackly thing is in the way and I can't sing it anymore. It's not as though it's out of my range; there is a beautiful high A on the other side of the gravel--I know because I heard it this morning. But tonight, there is something in the way. I try ten times, probably, but I can't find a way to hit it consistently like I was this morning. This piece will have to go. I'll sing the safe piece for the audition instead, the one that sounds good enough, I hope. And then I will just cross my fingers that in the "warm-up" part of the audition, I can fake my way through the high notes.

"You sounded amazing," John says when he comes inside, but I am grouchy. He must think I'm being a perfectionist. He must not have heard it through the glass.

So I sing for him, demonstrate for him for the first time what it sounds like when that thing is in my voice, in my way.

He gets it. He agrees I should sing the safe song.


This isn't about an audition, though.

This, my friends, is about vulnerability and failure and longing. In this moment, it all comes back to me. This pattern started at age sixteen, and all through college I sang through and around it, some months thinking maybe I'd finally overcome that thing and could sing freely again. Clearly, I never quite have. This is the shape of my musical life. This is the tender piece of my heart which will always produce a tear. This is about when the object of joy and refuge and beauty becomes an object of frustration and inadequacy.

This is about the question, "Do I want to risk it all again? Do I even want to sing if it will dredge up all these emotions again?"

But I have a fool's heart, a longing for that snippet of beauty from this morning, apparently at any cost. So of course the answer is yes. I want to risk it. I want to sing.

And I will find a place to do it whether I make this choir or not.

(If you're interested, here's the back story on my saga with singing and failing and splatting high notes.)

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