The young lady was aghast. “How can you enjoy singing in a crowd like that? You can’t even hear your own voice!” I had to chuckle. Somehow, that was just the point. We had just spent the evening in a beautiful auditorium, listening to different groups perform. There were even a few soloists who demonstrated their prowess in the vocal domain. It was all very nice. But afterward, I had the gall to admire verbally the part of the affair which I thought was the highlight of the evening. “By far, the best thing tonight was when we all sang together,” I had been bold enough to confess. The young lady, with aspirations of being a soloist herself, was vehement in her disagreement. After a moment or two of a back and forth tussle for superiority, we realized that this was a stalemate, with neither of us having the ammunition to settle the argument. We walked away friends, but still both firmly believing that our own position had more merit than the other.
My memory of that evening, the purpose of the musical session itself long lost in the fog of the past, is of the awe of being part of that huge instrument, made up of almost a thousand voices singing in harmony. We sang the old hymns of the church, many now almost lost to a generation brought up on more popular, less structured songs. On that night, voices were raised up, building from the customary hesitant start, with everyone singing melody, as the individuals in the crowd timorously got a feel for the parts and other singers around them. You could almost feel the confidence take root, as here and there an alto voice split off from the sopranos and then, by the end of the first line, a tenor went up to the high notes. By the time we got to the middle of the second line in the song, the parts were solidly in evidence as the harmony built and equaled the melody part. Every time we sang together that evening, it seemed to me that the feeling of being one huge choir built even more, until the last song almost lifted the roof above us. One could almost imagine that it was just a little like Heaven will be one day.
I have been a musician since childhood, from my first disastrous attempts at piano solos in church, to horn solos and all kinds of ensemble playing in between. I have always preferred playing or singing in a group. For me, it is an amazing thing to blend my voice or my instrument with other musicians, all with a unified purpose in mind. I don’t really enjoy performing, but I do relish being part of a group that is intent on making music together. I am starting to formulate some thoughts about the basis for this feeling.
Today, a young friend of mine asked me if I was ready for a community concert in which he and I are taking part later this month. I admitted to being slightly less than agog at the prospect. It will be a performance, with the people on the stage, soloists and ensembles, producing music for the consumption of the audience. The performers are practicing, preparing themselves to do the best job they can when their turn comes to take the stage. The ensemble in which I am participating has been rehearsing for the last month or so, working through the rough spots, checking intonation, and attempting to blend the voices of our instruments, so that the performance will be as perfect as it can be. I’m still not excited. I asked the young man, a guitarist, what he thought of my dilemma. More specifically, I asked him if he was passionate about performing in front of an audience. He considered for a moment and admitted that he was much more comfortable when making music with others, than with the idea of just playing for people to listen to. I have decided that there is hope for this generation of youngsters coming up, after all.
I don’t want to beat this horse for too long (I hope it’s not dead already), but one of the comments my young friend made has given me pause. “I sometimes feel like people are looking for things that I do wrong when I perform,” was his statement. There is little doubt that he is correct. We have become a society of spectators, demanding entertainment, but offering no assistance with the program. When we only sit and listen, we are much more likely to notice the mistakes, much more likely to critique the style and delivery. We somehow believe that being part of an audience gives us carte blanche to determine (and point out) what is wrong with the performance. It is a problem which has become epidemic in our day; not limited to musical performances, but extending to sporting events, politics and government, and even to service organizations like homeless shelters and food pantries. The list could go on. Non-participants become critics and experts, never getting in the game and helping at all themselves.
When we participate, we understand the hardships. We comprehend how difficult it is to memorize lyrics, how much work it is to listen for the other voices, how important it is to carry our own part. We are so much less likely to criticize and significantly more inclined to aid in getting through the tough parts. When we are a part of the music, we take personal responsibility and even personal pride in every single participant who does well. Because we have “a dog in the hunt”, so to speak, we do our part to make it better.
I will certainly do my best as I perform with my friends and family later this month. I still will continue to anticipate so much more, the times we can get together and simply appreciate making music together.
Someday, I’m going to finish that discussion with the young lady. I just might win this time.
Okay…I wouldn’t hold my breath.
“Loving God, loving each other…
Making music with my friends.
Loving God, loving each other…
And the story never ends.”
(“Loving God, Loving Each Other” by William J and Gloria Gaither~American songwriters)
“Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice. Do more than be fair: be kind. Do more than forgive: forget. Do more than dream: work.”
(William Arthur Ward~American pastor/author~1921-1994)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.