- I should be practicing more. Why can’t I ever find time to practice?
- Wait, last week I did have time. So why didn’t I practice?
- Hmmm, so much for January’s resolutions, and February’s…
- Will I ever get good enough to have a real professional career?
- By the time I get good enough, I’ll be too old and no one will want to hear me sing.
- I’m already too old! Just look at what an illustrious career the great singers had had by my age, let alone the annoying child prodigies on YouTube that get millions of hits.
- I’ll never learn enough songs, or find the right repertoire, or get organized enough.
- I don’t have enough confidence or charisma to “make it”.
And the worry that, in its elegance, seems to sum up all other worries:
- Why is what I do never enough??
If you’re thinking, “No, these thoughts never cross my mind,” (and I’m thinking: what, seriously?) then you have my full permission to ignore the rest of this article, sit back and relax in anticipation of next week’s vocal musings.
Are you still reading? Good! Then I’m not alone. Now, if you are dedicated to music, but feel like you are lagging behind: behind your own where-I-should-be-now’s, behind the devilishly talented people around you, then this post is dedicated to you. Yes, all of you who put sweat and tears into your voice, but still don’t feel like you’re “making it”. The reality of “making it” is harsh, and this harshness begins to taint the very spring from which your love of music flows.
Just for a few moments, let’s take a FULL vacation from our aspirations. Let’s extricate ourselves from the deep swamp of personal expectations and dive into the crystal-clear waters from which our love of music, Botticelli-style, was first birthed. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you drifting ambition-less on some faraway island (as nice as that would be). I’ll bring you back to where we started, so we don’t lose track of our goals, but return to them refreshed and rejuvenated.
Take a moment to think back to the first time you fell in love with music. Perhaps it was a particular song that made you want to sing, a teacher who helped you find your voice, or a singer you admired. Maybe there is a performance you observed, or were a part of, that you still hold dear to this day. Really take a moment to think of, not when you formally started your studies, but when music took hold of your heart and made you gaze in awe into the infinite depths of its universe. Perhaps there are multiple moments that come to mind. If a particular song comes into your mind, find a recording of it and play it. Think of where you were when you heard it, how it made you dream, and how nothing else by comparison seemed so alive or beautiful (if you don’t have a particular song, you can borrow mine, which is “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka, the version sung by Renee Fleming).
While listening, take a few steps further down the sun-dappled path of memory. If you loved music as a child, picture again what it felt like, reveling in music, or dance, in the innocent years before you were aware of how you looked or sounded. Perhaps you had a family member who would sing with you, or liked to sing along to a favorite tape or radio station. Maybe later, in your teen years, you sang or danced in the privacy of your bedroom, imagining the fans (some with familiar faces) swooning at your feet. Or was it just me? Well, we all have our stages*.
Now, ask yourself, how many of those experiences you treasured actually involved awards, or money, or fame? Would you trade any of those experiences–the ones that took you out of yourself, that gave you the courage and inspiration to dream, the ones that opened doors, if only for a moment, to the great ineffable–for more popularity?
Your choice of music, and the way you responded to it, may have changed with the times, but I bet your desire to be expressive and musical is what kept you going. Goals are good, in fact, they’re essential for “getting your act together”, but don’t let them steal away the sweetness and fullness of the present. A mountain of money, a wardrobe of the latest and most flattering fashions, fame, popularity and adoration of the masses…are these things ever really enough? Attainment of riches to me always feels like, in the words of Tennyson, “climbing the climbing wave”. Sure, there’s nothing like the thrill of a great performance, but for me, it’s wading through music and getting my feet wet every day (in rehearsals, practice sessions, attending concerts) that brings me the most joy.
Work hard, plan big, and dream big too, but above all, rest peacefully in the assurance that the music is with you now and that it’s here to stay. No need to earn it. No need to sell your soul. People will tell you otherwise, but you’ll know better. Besides, you surrendered your heart to music long ago, when you first heard that song. Music is not just a career, a hobby, or an art; it’s the home you can always return to, the place where your heart belongs.
*once, when I was little our church was throwing away an old blue carpet-covered stage and I asked if I could bring it home instead. We set it up in the corner of our living room next to the treadmill and I think a karaoke machine and strobe lights were involved…See what I mean by “stages”.