Several times this week I’ve paused in the middle of teaching to interrupt a student’s spiral of self-deprecation and frustration. The spiral is easy to recognize, either by the words that accompany it— “This doesn’t sound right.” … “That note is so high!” … “Why can’t I get this?” —or, once you know what to look for, by the slow-blinking, eyes-downcast head shake and shoulder slump. It’s unmistakeable body language: “I’m not good enough.”
There’s a running joke in my field that music lessons tend to be 10% technique and 90% therapy. And while it is a joke—I’m a vocal supporter of the mental health industry and believe everyone can benefit from working periodically with an excellent professional talk therapist—I know that among the lessons I’ve learned from my own therapist are several that I share often with my students:
that every artist healthy human being struggles with self-doubt,
that finding (and trusting) voices that recognize and appreciate our inherent worth is one of the most important (and most difficult) things we can do as artists humans, and
that I, in my role as an authority figure in their artistic lives, am (I hope!) one of those supportive voices.
So pianist Herbie Hancock’s anecdote about a botched chord in a gig with trumpeter Miles Davis has been on my mind a lot this week. If you’ve hit a wrong note or two in your own life recently, maybe you’ll find this story moving too. Click “play” on the video below to hear Hancock tell it for himself. It’s worth the 90 seconds.
In the meantime, namasté, my friends. The Divine in me acknowledges the Divine in you. Can you see it too?
News flash! Because I am apparently lousy at reading updates from my alma mater, I found out just today that Run With It, the comedy troupe of which I was a founding member, is having their 25th-and-a-Half Anniversary Show this Saturday as part of the Homecoming festivities at Dickinson College.
I’ll be donning ye olde red T-shirt (trying hard not to think about the fact that the shirt itself was already more than half a decade old when the current Dickinson freshpeople were born) and clambering awkwardly onto the stage with “Cotton” (Schwab) Rice, “Grunt” DiFiore, and a whole bunch of people a LOT younger than we are, with the sole intention of making fools out of ourselves for the benefit of others’ good humor. Should be quite a hoot!
One of the “fun” (heh) things about being a solo entrepreneur is that one has only one’s own mistakes to learn from. Happily, it also means that along the learning curve you get to develop really wonderful relationships with the folks who have supported your business.
On Thursday I got a very pleasant email from the interim senior minister at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus, sharing the wonderful news that their two choirs would like to share my solstice cantata, Remember the Dark, in their worship services on January 29. Her staff was concerned, though, that for a congregation of their size the cost might be prohibitive.
(This is what happens when I base my pricing structure on congregations the size of my beloved little UUCV: the kind of numbers that make sure my expenses are met for a small order suddenly seem unwieldy and unreasonable for larger groups.)
So I appreciated the gentleness of the email, and after a little bit of Dashboard finagling, I was delighted to be able to respond with a new volume discount pricing structure for Remember the Dark. The Columbus choirs—and now, anyone—can order larger quantities of RtD scripts at up to a 60% discount. Just place the order through my Shop page, and the discount should automatically apply: 20 or more copies are only $3.00 each, and 50 or more copies are only $2.00 each!
I’ll be reviewing my catalog over the next several weeks to evaluate the pricing of my choral inventory, but if you have a particular request please follow Rev. Jennifer’s lead and contact me. It’s all about the relationships!
Once a year or so, Rev. Aija lets me take the reins (and the pulpit) for what we call “Music Sunday”—a worship experience that’s all about music, except when it’s not. Coming up with a theme for Music Sunday is always pretty easy—there’s always a song I’ve wanted to find an excuse for the choir to sing, or a topic I’ve wanted to write a song about, or a story I’ve wanted to tell. Except for this year.
This year, as America’s democracy seems to have devolved into a battle of mudslinging and “who’s evil-er than whom,” and as ever-improving and ever more ubiquitous technology makes it harder for injustice to disguise itself as rumor or hyperbole, I find myself feeling inadequate. There is too much wrong with the world for one little sermon or one new choir anthem to fix it.
My prayer habits are quite a bit different now than they used to be, but my spirituality is still one of stubbornly second-person theology: I no longer even pretend to understand fully who or what God really is, but I know it’s not me. So after struggling for too long to find the right focus for Music Sunday, I threw my hands up and asked the Universe for a hint—and silence was the response. Not silence-the-absence-of-response silence. Silence-the-potent-beginnings-of-all-that-is silence.
It started with a Facebook post from a friend of mine:
One line in particular caught my eye, because I hear it a lot from people of color when they express frustration with the “shallow understanding from people of good will” that so often describes the reaction that I and other white allies fumble to manage as we work for justice. “Have a seat and study some more.”
In other words, shut up and listen. There are important things to be said, and you need to hear them.
So this Sunday at UUCV we’ll be seeking silence. Talking about silence. And singing about silence. And most importantly, spending more time in silence than nearly any of us are comfortable with, because growth is hardly ever comfortable.
We’ll also be hearing some breathtakingly gorgeous music, of course. You know I love to show off my little choir, and they are working magic with the Mark Hayes arrangement of “The Sound of Silence”—last night’s rehearsal left me with goosebumps. Adding Dani and Marc, who will be backing us up on Sunday on drums and bass, will just take things to a whole new level.
We’ll also be premiering a new choral piece I wrote for the occasion, called “Sing It.” The lyrics follow; I do hope you’ll join us on Sunday at 10:30 AM to hear the choir give it wings—and I hope it moves you to the right kind of silence.
In the silence,
without noise, without words to save the day,
I can hear me, but I’m not sure what to say.
Rage against? Stand behind?
Play it safe? Play the hero?
Do I ever say a word that starts inside?
Now I finally have the chance, and I hide.
Then I hear it—
though at first I’m afraid I’m not alone—
soft and clear, it speaks a truth I recognize as my own.
And it speaks, without words, of a strength here within me
that could change the world if only I would try.
So I slowly close my eyes, and breathing deep,
I sing it soft and low and gentle
like the breeze that runs its fingers through my hair.
I sing it deep and true and wordless,
like the beating of a heart that’s always there.
I sing it silently within, and let the music work its magic
in the veins that carry life to every corner of my soul.
When I finally claim the silence,
I sing it gentle.
Eyes are open,
and at last I can see I’m not alone.
You’ve been singing too,
and your spirit harmonizes with my own.
And we sing, and our hearts gather strength here among us
that can change the world if only we will try.
And when we know we’re not alone,
we sing it loud! We sing it strong!
We sing it boldly from the mountaintop,
and bravely at the coffee shop,
and lovingly to everyone we meet!
Love is born in silence,
but for love to survive,
we must sing it loud!
Every now and then an artist creates something that, whether it’s benevolent muses or subconscious connection to the hive mind or just dumb luck, feels “just right” for its moment in time. “Here Together” has been one of those “somethings” for me—I wrote the first refrain several years ago just so I could have something no one would already know, but that would be easy to teach to a workshop crowd. Now we sing it just about every time we gather at UUCV; young kids who can’t yet read know the words and sing along with heart-filling gusto. And for special occasions, I developed the short refrain into a full anthem—that’s the version I had the privilege of singing with the amazing Allison Mickelson and friends at Middle Collegiate Church in NYC.
This spring, someone thought that little phrase—”here together”—would make a great title for a study on multi-generational worship. The Sophia Fahs Collaborative agreed. And now my little song—as performed by members and friends of the UUCV choir—is the theme song for an entire online curriculum.
Click through to view the overview of this wonderful series, or to subscribe to the whole program. (It’s free, so you really have nothing to lose by exploring!)