Listen to the Music

Today I want to write about something deeply personal.  (Oh yeah, I do that all the time:)

I want to think outloud about one of my biggest coping mechanisms in life and how it stretches its fingers across my world into other areas and how it is affected by our current world crisis.

I started singing in choir at age 7.  I was part of a successful church music program and I also had a great elementary music teacher.  Even before that, I had been chirping away to my family.  At get togethers I would beg for someone to let me sing, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”  There were a lot of Judy Garland fans in the family.  Unfortunately she died when I was four years old. This preoccupied and upset me as  a young child more than I think was normal.  I had been convinced we would meet and she would ask me to sing on stage with her.

Alas, I had to move on to other artists.  My next fixation was Karen Carpenter.  Just like Judy, I knew I could match my voice to hers.  Actually, I did match it except for the fact that I sounded like a child.  I memorized every quirk, every pause, every crescendo and decrescendo.  I also was learning to play the piano.

Fast forward to middle school and we had moved to a small school district in the country.  I sang my heart out.  I auditioned for every contest they had.  I didn’t always win but I sang anyway.

I joined the band in 8th grade and from there on through 12th grade I was in both band and choir and sometimes, drama.  Starting in my junior year in high school I began taking private voice lessons.  l was the main soloist at our small church and I sang all over the place for scholarship money to go to college.

College began and I was a music major, with voice as my primary instrument, but  against my father’s wishes.  He thought it was completely impractical and I would probably end up god knows where without a job.  He told me that getting a teaching certificate was not optional.  I wasn’t happy about that.  I had grander plans for myself.  The great opera houses and even Broadway twinkled in my plans.

At the end of my sophomore year I found myself transferred to a larger University, from UT San Antonio to UT Austin and very let down by the music department.  It was backbiting and mean.  I didn’t know if I could do it.  My parents made clear they were not going to support me in Austin in that degree. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know how I would ever get it done.  I lost my mojo.

So I became an English major with a history minor and the rest is.. you know.. history.   I started to acrue graduate degrees in other areas, but, I never stopped singing.

I found my way to University United Methodist Church at age 22.  They had an amazing music program that was more challenging than the choir I had left at UT.  It not only challenged me as a musician, it was a family.  I had come home. I even started taking vocal coaching again.  I thrived on that and could not imagine life without it.  In fact, it is there that I first knew that music and corporate (group) worship are the ways in which I connect to the Almighty.

I became friends with the conductor and his wife and family.  My world revolved around rehearsal and singing at services.

During that period I finished two degrees and started teaching English at the college level.  I enjoyed it but I felt a calling to be a spiritual leader.  It took a lot of time to decipher that call.  To be honest, I don’t think I have ever deciphered it.

I went to seminary and I joined another choir there. I was set on the path of becoming clergy and I did become that.  For the time I had my own church I was not just preacher and teacher but also the music maker.

When we left New Jersey and came back to Texas after four years, I decided to sing with my former director.  He was now divorced and with another church.  I went there and found a new choir family.  I continued to learn and to be challenged by singing his original music and standard oratorio repetoire.

After a stint with another local church choir I hit a big stopping point.  It was my health.  I know that any readers of this blog know what happened there.

Here I am a little over 10 years later.  My voice is a croak and listening to good choral music is almost painful.

I even found a new faith.  One that matches my identity and makes a great deal of sense to me.  I want to attend worship and learn the liturgy in the best way I know how: sing.

In fact when I look back I think it is pretty obvious what the ideal clergy type spot would have been for me: Rabbi Cantor.

When I sing beautiful music that praises the Creator, I feel that I am surrounded by the spirit and lifted to a place where contact with the Almighty is somehow more possible to apprehend.

For me, music does the same thing that I think meditation does for some.

I also feel similar about the prayer in corporate worship.  In a Jewish worship service there is a great deal of this and I find it hypnotising and comforting.  It takes me out of my everyday thinking and lets me empty my mind of its everyday junk.  Once it is empty, I can allow the Divine in and possibly, rarely, even hear what is being said.

So where does this leave me?

Frustrated.  I am frustrated.  I want to sing and I want to do it with others.  I may not be up to the fast pace of my former choirs.  I used to rehearse every week and sing every Sunday, sometimes at two services.  That is a lot of work.

That’s ok.  I will find the right rythm and the right place.

If nothing else this pandemic has taught me what I find vitally important.  I need to be around people.  I need to actively worship and I need to make music.  I don’t sound too great but I am anxious to take lessons again.  I don’t think it is hopeless, yet.

Maybe this time of being forced to live quietly and to look inward has been just the boot in the fanny I needed.

Please let me know how this works for you. Do you attend online services at your place of worship?  If so, does it satisfy the same  parts of you that worshipping in person does?

Are you a singer?  Have you always or often been part of a choir?  What do you think about the fact that we are living through a time when singing together can literally kill us?

What a strange thing.

It will be interesting to see what happens as we are freed from the grips of  enforced quarrantine.

All I can do for now is try to listen to the music I know and let myself be taken away as I glory in it.  I always imagine myself in the center of swirling sound.  In the center of the sound I can hear all the individual lines: the soprano, the oboe solo, the tenors, the first violin.  I hear them all separately but also all at once.  I guess it sounds corny and weird but it has always been like an arrow straight to my heart and then to my soul, if I let it.

I go for long periods of time where I don’t let myself immerse in that  direct channel, open  pathway, or whatever it is.  I don’t know why I resist it but I think it is  the same type of  human nature that makes any of us resist something we know is good for us, even if it reminds us of a painful separation.

What strange beasts we are.  Or, to be fair, I don’t know if anyone is as strange as me!  I am, without a doubt, a strange beast.

Okay, I think I am done.

This essay rambled on a bit but I have been trying to explain something that is inexplicable.

It is like the very nature of Adonai, something we can see every once in a while, but just a shadow in a darkened mirror that  appears much more clearly to me when I am making music with others and specifically in a worship setting.

I promise myself to stop being afraid of shadows and having  regret for things long past.  I want to open myself to what lies ahead.

I want to open myself to whatever G-d has in mind for me… if only I would stop and listen to the music.