A Collection of Thoughts On a Musical Life
Having someone look up to you is an amazing, scary thing. I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect, that having extra eyes can make me feel that pressure even more intensely. This weekend I learned that sometimes it is our imperfections that can help our protégés.
The daughter of a choir member in my church sings with the youth choir, so I get to see her a lot. She thinks I am the bees knees! Or whatever it is 21st century kids say. She loves to sing and is very comfortable in front of the congregation or, I’m sure, any audience. She is also eleven years old going on thirty, so it is sometimes easy to forget she is a child.
Part of the youth choir duties is to lead the mass parts. For the non-Catholics, these are short pieces sung at every mass. My young friend often leads these, as she did this past Sunday; but this week something happened that wasn’t to her satisfaction. I can’t even tell you what it was, because nothing went obviously wrong. What matters is that she felt upset by her performance, and there were tears.
I knew that words from me would mean a lot to her, so I made sure to talk to her after mass. Here is where I got to admit that I, too, make mistakes. I got to say it out loud for all to hear, and the very fact was a good thing. My little friend actually tried to argue! Friends, I have gotten up to the microphone at church and loudly sung about angels’ prostates falling, when the angels were supposed to be falling prostrate. I have missed entrances. I have learned the wrong Psalm. I have lost my place during a hymn and dropped half a verse. Not to mention wonky pitches and rhythms!
The thing about church work is that there are so many variables. When performing in the opera or choral world, each note, word, and staging is rehearsed many times. When singing for masses, we often have hymn tunes set to new words, a new psalm every week, not to mention priests who sometimes switch things up with no warning. The relative simplicity of most of the music means that even after a lifetime of singing it, we’re still on book. All this means I’ve seen it all.
There’s also a certain freedom in singing for church, which I explained to my friend: You’re in God’s house, so whatever comes out is what God wanted.
I think my friend needed to learn what it was like to not like how she did up in front of people, and I needed to learn that my imperfections can be useful to others.