Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Performing a backwards "Ariel" (apologies to Little Mermaid fans)

The "Laudate Dominum" movement of Mozart's "Solemn Vespers" is one of the loveliest pieces of music written for a soprano and chorus.  Its long, lyrical phrases climb through the warm part of the voice into the light, silvery part of the voice, and then return to earth.  It's a piece I fell in love with the first time I heard it.

And it's a piece I've only sung twice in public. The story of the first time I sang it, as an "oh, did you know you're doing the solo this morning?" surprise on a Sunday morning, is one that I regularly dust-off for laughs at dinner parties.  It's only funny because it's true, and because nearly every choir singer I know has had a nightmare that goes like that... kinda the singer's equivalent of the "giving-an-important-presentation-at-work-but-you-forgot-to-wear-pants" dream.

The second time I sang it in public was this past Sunday, for my beloved church congregation, who, I swear, would smile and tell me I was wonderful, even if I got up and sang "Jesus Loves Me" in whole notes, acappella, and flat.  This time, although it wasn't that bad, I am in a season where my voice is not exactly full of youthful, crystalline purity.  The seasonal coughing-bug, and the crying I've done lately (see my post on "sneaker waves"  ) have conspired, perhaps along with age, I don't know, to make my vocal folds a bit thicker and less responsive than they were even a year ago, and I can get away with far less in terms of mindless singing. It's a different voice right now, and it's all I have.  There's not much flash or dazzle to it, no effortless vocal spin.  It was a different feeling, singing with my ego stripped down to "this is all I have, and it will have to be enough", and then hearing that people were moved by it, liked it.

It was one of a number of moments lately, of finding my voice, and discovering that it has changed.

And it's not just my singing voice that I'm finding, and finding changed.  I have written already about "silencing" myself to keep the peace in my marriage to Andre, and about not stating clearly who I am, what I'm capable of, and what my boundaries are.  But lately, I'm finding that I have to somehow tune-up that voice as well.

Recently, I have been working on my "personal statement" , a kind of short autobiography that I need to write as part of my grad school application.  Since I like to write, it didn't really feel like work, until I dug into it and realized that I was going to have to advocate for myself, make some clear statements about who I am and what I am capable of.

And then it felt impossible.

A recent blow to my self-confidence, unrelated to singing or writing, had penetrated deeper than I had first thought, and my inner critic was completely in-charge. So, I automatically reverted to my least-offensive voice.  I softened and equivocated.  I filled each paragraph with "perhaps" and "possibly".  I understated things. I used tepid, weak verbs : "read" instead of "devoured", and "interested" instead of "fascinated", "most interested" instead of "I loved".   And I didn't even realize I had done it.  I sent it off to several friends for a read-through, and got the usual, wonderfully encouraging responses, but somebody was "listening" to it instead of just reading it, and he remarked, "this is not your usual voice; it's not the one I hear in your other writing", and he was right.  With that bit of feedback, and some specific suggestions from another friend about what, specifically, I was glossing-over and leaving-out, I re-wrote the essay.  I found my voice again. I'll be sending it out in a day or so.

With those two warm-ups, I had one more opportunity in recent days that required me to find my voice, admit how scared I was to use it, and then, feeling the fear, move forward anyway.

There's a person in my life who really has no right to be in my life.  This person is so unhealthy in her relating patterns that she is toxic, both to me and to my children.  It's been seven years since she was told to get out of our lives, but in that time, she had gotten used to contacting Andre and bargaining with him, trailing the promise of money, using guilt, playing innocent, whatever tactic appeared to work for a while.  Since Andre's death, this person has tried repeatedly to contact me, to contact the children, to find a way to insinuate herself into our lives, again using money and guilt.

And this week, I finally reached my "enough is enough" point.  I dread, dread, dread having ANYONE mad at me, unhappy with me, annoyed with me. I don't even like to have to flag down a waiter to ask for water. It's a weakness of mine.  I might look big and assertive and able to take care of myself, but I'm a wimp when it comes to standing up for myself.  It doesn't take much to get my Irish up on someone else's behalf (someday, I'll have to share my "I-punched-a-swim-coach" story... talk about misguided righteous indignation...) , but it's not at all the same when I have to face confronting someone on my own behalf.

But again, I'm learning that I have an incredible support system in place.  There are so many wonderful people who, for some reason, love me enough to cheer me on, offer suggestions both serious and outrageous, and hold me accountable to do what has to be done.  I drew on those suggestions and support, wrote out my "script", made my phone call, and somehow survived.

In story of The Little Mermaid, Ariel gave up her voice, in order to be loved.  I guess I'm doing a backwards Ariel these days.  (Try not to picture me doing a backwards arial--not with a cup of coffee in your hand, at least.  Keyboards are expensive :-)

 With the help of people who love me, I'm taking back my voice, and I'm learning to use it in new ways.

Psalm 96 begins, "Sing to the Lord a new song..."  

Ok.  I'll try.

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