November 27, 2005
Why Do I Sing?
Last night's Advent Procession was very special. As a member of the congregation for many years, I always found it an opportunity to have a place of reflection, quiet, and anticipation during an increasingly busy time of year. Last year, in my first season singing with the Gregorians, my focus was just on making it through the service without dropping a bell or setting my music on fire with my candle! (neither of which happened, thankfully). But this year was different. I thought a lot about why I sing as a member of a such a group.
When serious singers work together, the effort is totally focused on producing the most beautiful sound. And the most beautiful sound comes when each person is able to contribute his or her best effort as an individual while simultaneously coordinating that effort with, and sometimes subordinating that effort to, the ensemble as a whole. It's a huge responsibility, but the outcome is something no individual could accomplish on his or her own. It demands total focus and energy, but the reward is immediate and sometimes stunning, although the sound vanishes as quickly as it is produced.
Choral singing also feeds the idealist in me. It's so easy to be cynical about the many institutions we are bound up with: the government, the university, the institutional church, professional organizations, you name it.... But the kind of singing that feeds me isn't tied up in politics, jockeying for position, or manipulation.
That's why I'm glad to be a volunteer singer. At different times, I've thought about an alternative life as a professional musician. But I think that might take the fun and the passion out of it. As a volunteer, I don't have to worry about music as a livelihood - it can just be a way of feeding my soul.
And while it feeds my soul, I hope it feeds the souls of others as well. One never knows. It's a bit like what happens in the process of teaching - one never know the impact that any particular statement or lecture might have. Sometimes students tell me (sometimes many years later) that a particular thing I said or wrote made a difference for them. But there are many unknown impacts. Same with choral performance - the performers rarely know the full, personal impact of their offering on those who heard it. I like the mystery!
Peter Sellars, professor of world arts and culture at UCLA, had this to say about singing. (Read a fascinating interview with him from a PBS series called "The Question of God" here.)
"Vocal music is an attempt to take the whole human being and project it into space. It is the ultimate gesture of getting out of yourself. You take a part of you that is most private, most personal, most inward, and you hurl it out into space - you project is as far as you can. That gesture of opening the whole body results in an enormous spiritual release, and is felt by other people with tremendous impact."
Lovely entry--just what was needed at the moment. Thank you for the link to the terrific Sellars interview too.
Posted by: Lynn at November 27, 2005 8:04 PM
I'm so glad the procession went well and was thrilled to hear about your passion for choral music. Music is such a wonderful energizer and I agree that volunteering in choral performance is one of the best endeavors. Keep us posted on future performances.
Posted by: Kevin at November 29, 2005 11:00 AM