Tag Archives: singing

WriterTeacherSingerSpy

Salzburg

I have been laboring over this piece now for days. It’s the first time I’ve ever sung alto in a choir, and my reading skills are finally being honed after years of skirting by on melody. My music is all marked up in a vain attempt to make sense of the accidentals and crazy key changes and seemingly senseless alto line.

I take a deep breath.

I plunk out the notes again.

Jen tells me to listen to the recording, to try to pick out my part.

“Copland thinks chordally, so it’s really helpful,” she says.

The first moment we began singing it in choir, I thought: Have I sung this before? How do I know this?

Ah, years ago. In Boston — Jen was the soloist and my mom and I had travelled down to see her. It’s a big piece. An overwhelming piece. And I could feel right away that I had heard it before.

It’s kicking my butt.

~     ~     ~

Miss Hawkins, is English your life?

[Just one of them.]

In reference to Edmond Dantés and Mercédès:

Well, obviously they didn’t love each other enough, or they would have waited. They would have gotten married.

[Hold on: What about circumstances? What about life? Is it possible that you can love someone deeply but have it not work out?]

In reference to Aylmer and Georgiana in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark:”

I think he really loved her. He was trying to help her.

[Woah, woah, woah! Careful. What is love? Aylmer obsesses over a tiny blemish on his wife’s cheek, to the point where it is all he sees of her. All her beauty and charm and kindness means nothing. Is that love? Trying to change someone? Trying to make them perfect?]

In reference to a grammar grade:

Wait – so you took a whole point off because I missed a verb tense?

[Yes, it’s called grammar.]

Why aren’t you married yet?

[Because I haven’t met anyone I wanted to see every day for the rest of my life.]

Really?!

[Here is where I wonder at their ideas of love and marriage. How I find it more amazing that anyone has found someone they like enough to see every day than it is that I haven’t.]

Why do you like writing so much? It’s boring.

[No! My heart!]

Why would you want to become a teacher?

[Here, I pause. Why? Do I tell them the truth? That it crept up on me and surprised me? That really, these twelve faces are the reason I became a teacher? And all their manifestations? They think I am not cool because I’m a teacher. This bums me out.]

Miss Hawkins, can I have some of your buffalo chicken calzone?

[No. Way.]

~     ~     ~

As difficult as the Copland has proven to be, it isn’t the piece that excites me. It’s the Whitacre that puts bubbles in my blood, makes my heart swirl. I listen to it over and over. I imagine da Vinci, consumed, obsessed, like Aylmer in Hawthorne’s short story.

the sirens’ song

I wonder what it must be like to feel compelled to create. To destroy the boundaries that the known world has imposed.

I sink into the low notes with silky enjoyment of their depth.

I paint pictures with my voice.

[7th graders: This is one of my other lives.]

A Hundred Years of Singing

4665579972_86486f0227_o

I remember discovering music as a little girl in the old brown church. Out the thin windows, I could see the pink hydrangea tree dipped down to the ground, bent from years of blooming. I couldn’t read yet, but I stood next to my father and followed him. I remember wondering How do I know where to put my voice next? and it was like the first time you think maybe there is more to be known than you will ever learn.

My grandfather used to sing “How Great Thou Art” under his breath while he hoed the garden, sorted the mail, wrote notes in his little breast-pocket notebook. He would hum and whistle, and ever since he’d lost some of his hearing, the tune hadn’t been quite right.

My Maine grandpa would sing fun ditties as he rocked us in his rocking chair. “How much is that doggie in the window?” and other silly songs that came from decades ago. It was when he took out his harmonica, though, that the music really started — his gnarled, hard-worked hands making music unlike any I had ever heard before.

And then there was singing in the car, belting along to Randy Travis and other 1990s country artists, wondering why I sounded different from the man singing. I hadn’t yet learned what octaves were.

I remember staying in the blue van while my family left because we’d gotten to my grandparents’ house, but it was in the middle of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” and there was no way I was going to miss that key change, that high note at the end.

Standing in front of a large woman at church, in awe of her operatic voice but also afraid of it and confused by why she was always a little bit behind everyone else.

Getting a thrill whenever “Black Velvet” came on the radio. Alannah Miles’ sultry voice and lyrics of desire had me enthralled before I hit kindergarten.

My great-grandma played the piano by ear, sang through the open window while she washed dishes and hoped someone from Hollywood would walk by. She never did get her big break, but she sang for 105 years.

~     ~    ~

We start our lessons with stretching to the sky and then hanging loose like a rag doll. I tell her to take deep breaths, to feel her back expand with air. We do sirens to activate the different registers, we talk about our diaphragm and how it supports our breath, and we talk about opening our mouths as the notes get higher.

She loves to sing hymns. She has big hazel eyes that take in what I say with this look of hunger to learn it all. She asks to sing “Amazing Grace,” but she doesn’t want to sing it alone.

“Can we sing it together? You know, when you sing different things than I do?”

“You mean when I sing the alto line and you sing the soprano line?” I ask.

“Yes, yes! Can we?”

Who would say no? Besides, I love hearing her little-girl voice paired with my slightly-less-little-girl voice, a cappella in my practice room with the string of Christmas lights.

I’m not sure she’ll be able to hold the soprano line, and she falters a bit. Then her voice stops wavering. She sings with confidence. At the end, we smile at each other.

I tell her I love singing with her.

I don’t tell her that she’s been gathering music memories for eight years, that they will build on each other and come out at surprising times.

I don’t tell her that maybe she’ll remember singing “Amazing Grace” with her voice teacher, how the mismatch of their voices mimicked the mismatch of their time of life.

[Photo: geraldbrazell]

Change is Good

IMG_0224

Diana walks slowly across the grass, her hand brushing the porch post as she passes. She settles herself into the Adirondack chair and places the bowl of yogurt and granola in her lap. My friend looks six months pregnant, but no, she assures me, she’s due in January. I look at her belly again. Really? Five more months? The thought crosses my mind — twins — but I don’t say anything. What do I know about pregnancy?

We became friends studying music in college, she a mezzo-soprano and I a soprano. I remember meeting her in Music Theory I and how her bubble bangs curled over her wire-rimmed glasses. Neither of us was quite ready for college, but we entered the practice rooms with conviction: we would learn how to sing if it killed us. It’s only since graduation that we’ve become close, writing letters back and forth. I enjoy the way letters force me to slow down, take note. It was one of these letters on pale green paper that told me Diana was expecting and asked me to visit before fall came.

It’s my first visit to Deer Isle in the summer, and it isn’t hard to see why Diana came home. Eating breakfast in front of the ocean, I see two small islands covered in pine trees across the way, a working lobster pound to my left. In the field is an American flag flapping, and beneath it, we sit in two yellow Adirondack chairs. Kiska, their American Eskimo puppy, dashes across the grass flashing her long white fur. She gets too excited, barking and jumping despite Diana’s admonitions.

It’s my last hurrah of the summer. I go back to teaching in a week, and I drove the nearly five hours to Deer Isle with the hopes of rest and sunshine. I didn’t know till I got there that they actually live on Sunshine, a small section of Deer Isle proper.

“Like a borough,” I say. “So you’re Manhattan.”

She laughs.

“Yeah, we’re Manhattan.”

It’s a Manhattan complete with one coffee shop, one year-round restaurant, and two or three seasonal eateries that may or may not be open when they say they’ll be. The coffee is delicious, and I think as I sip: Maybe I could actually live here if there’s good coffee.

IMG_0195

I’ve come for rest and sunshine and Diana’s voice recital. Four years ago we gave our respective senior recitals, and now, on a Sunday afternoon in August, Diana stands in front of a small group of people with her four-month-belly and a black floor-length dress. She’s shed the wire-rimmed glasses and grown out the bubble-bangs. I know the work it takes to learn this music and the nervousness Diana must have felt this morning. I know that a tiny part of her just wants this all to be over. She takes a deep breath. Her belly moves out as she inhales and then, as she begins the first notes of Ned Rorem’s “Absalom,” her belly tightens beneath her skirt.

I am aware of every movement, of the muscle strength it takes to breathe and support. Her voice fills the white room, and immediately I see how much she has grown. Not just her voice, not just her musicality. Her face. Her body. Her ease. Diana wasn’t the only stiff performer in college; we all moved with inhibition and a fear of risk. We struggled with too much pride and easily wounded egos. I remember how hard it was to change my focal point, just to lift my eyes from the exit sign at the back of the room up to the right where the sunshine was supposed to be. But here she is, this beautifully strong musician who moves with grace. The piece isn’t happy: her mezzo-soprano voice bemoans Absalom’s betrayal of his father, King David. For a moment, I am David weeping in the high chamber: my child and my betrayer.

IMG_0222

Diana ends the final note with an emphatic sadness. She is David for a second longer. Then she is Diana again, snapped back to the small hot room with her belly that may or may not contain twins. She sings through the program, taking on each character and making me forget I’m just an audience member sitting in a hard pew. We clap her back onstage and her encore — “Summertime”  — is a show-stopper. Later, the audience lines up to greet her. Too many people comment on the size of her belly, the possibility of twins. She laughs and says something like, “Yes, I’m getting a little scared,” but she doesn’t seem scared, with her dark hair perfectly smoothed back and her diamond necklace and earrings.

She doesn’t seem scared of this baby or spending her entire life on an island of three thousand people. She looks at her lobsterman husband with a gentle kindness. There’s a power in her, a new ease. Maybe a good word for this new Diana is calm; she moves slowly but with thoughtfulness I envy. I read once that “rushing is the sign of an amateur,” and I know this is me, always frantic to do that next thing, accomplish that goal, fill that hole in me or my life. I feel this no more strongly than right now, in this place of steadiness and home-grown families. I wonder what it takes to grow from rushing to rest, and why it takes some longer than others to settle into rhythms.

~     ~     ~

On my drive home to Massachusetts, I think about my next visit to the island. There will probably be a baby — maybe two — and our conversations will not be about pregnancy but sleeping habits and resemblance and how to teach voice lessons with an infant. I will probably knit a tiny sweater that will only fit Diana’s child for a few months, and she’ll marvel because she can never believe I find time to do things like that. She doesn’t understand that picking out blue and white yarn for a sweater with whales on it is how I participate in the changes. I might not be in the same place she finds herself, but I can sit on my couch in the fall and knit something that will keep her baby warm. I like to think I’ll be learning the habit of contentment as I slip stitches from one needle to the next.

An Offering

IMG_1467I am walking along roads I know well – well enough to anticipate dips and turns without thinking. I am walking in the slanted light of morning, and the air smells like spring.

I pass an older woman in purple slacks. She carries a purse, so I know she isn’t out on a leisurely stroll like I am. She has a purpose, a place. I have a purpose too, but it’s not quite so tangible.

There aren’t many places I feel closer to God than when I am walking. Walks are my response to uncertainty, to fear, to wrestling. I walked around and around on 9/11, and again the day of the Boston Marathon bombing. I walked as graduation approached and I mourned the loss of my little life at college, and I walked the day I realized I would not be able to take that job with AmeriCorps back in 2012.

As I go, I talk to God. I slip in and out of actual conversation with him and conversations with others in my life. I shape thoughts and how I feel and how best to convey these things to other people. But God listens the whole time, and I feel his shaping of my words, too.

I stop by the stream and sit on the crooked cement slab, watching the water flow from under the road. It foams and swirls and swirls together, one floating foam into another, until they converge and slip over the rocks and down the stream.

IMG_0614

I think about how we are all “others” and how this is scary.

That seeing and accepting another’s otherness is what community is about.

No one drives by to see me in my striped hoody by the stream, and I know what waits for me on my return home: Bonhoeffer and YA literature, a couch made soft with blankets and the sound of the neighbor children racing their bikes in the street.

I sit for a moment longer, and I want to sing to the Lord. I want to sing a song of trust and faith, a faith that covers and holds up all the brokenness and sadness I sometimes feel.

I want to sing, but no song comes. I wait. I am open.

I want to sing.

But there, by the stream on that quiet road, with birds chirping in the weeping willow, no song comes.

At first, I am concerned. Where is my song? I want to have an offering, but my hands – my throat – are empty.

And then I think that maybe my offering is too much me and not enough listening.

Too much sound and not enough quiet.

Too much struggling for answers and not enough allowance of questions.

And so I sit a moment longer, get up, walk home.

An offering of listening.

A Thank You Note

Image 7

I’m standing in a living room filled with fancy strangers. I’m wearing my new black dress and a string of pearls. I’m standing in the rosy-soft lighting, and I’m about to sing. I’d been asked to perform at a fundraiser for a local theater company, and as I look out at the faces I don’t know and the few I do, I wait to sing.

~     ~     ~

The day before, I sat at the piano teaching a voice lesson, and I was trying to get my student to become the character. She was singing Eponine’s “On My Own,” and I kept asking her questions, trying to pull the character out of her imagination instead of handing it to her from mine.

What are you thinking about?
Why are you singing?
Are you sad? Angry? Lonely? Anxious? Disappointed?
WHY ARE YOU SINGING?

She was a good sport, my student, and she started to craft her character. It was harder to get her to open her mouth, though, to support the higher notes, to let go of her fear.

I said, “You’ve got to just trust yourself. Just let it out. Think about Eponine and her feelings, not the note or the pitch. Just sing the story.”

And it hit me – right there in the tiny practice room with the twinkly Christmas lights and art I’d hung on the walls in September – that I’m a little bit of a hypocrite. I’m pretty good at encouraging other people; I see their potential and I push them and help them and tell them not to give up. There are times, maybe, when I push too hard, but more often than not, I’m right and they can.

Then there’s me. There are the nerves that I haven’t felt since early college right before a performance. There’s the fear that I’ll mess up, and – because everyone knows I studied voice in college – the judgement will be harsher, sharper, like a final indictment.

I pushed my student to embrace her character and let go of her fear, and I sat on the piano stool clutching to mine.

My student looked me in the eye, shook her head with determination, and sang through the entire song. I sat there, listening, but also a little bit ashamed.

I’d be singing this same song the next day, but would I be able to sing the story? Would I be able to get over myself? Would my student be proud of me? Or would she wonder where I got off, chastising her for not having courage while I floundered exactly the same way?

When she stopped singing and stood there for a moment in silence, the last moments as Eponine, I saw on her face a little hint of transformation.

“Beautiful,” I said, quietly, because both of us know that we get emotional when we sing this song.

“Beautiful,” I said, because there was a part of me that envied this 8th grade singer who is slowly discovering her voice.

~     ~     ~

As I start to sing, I know I am too quiet, and that I’m letting my fear take a stranglehold on my voice. I release. I open up. I become Eponine. For me, though, this is a tricky balancing act . So often becoming a character leads to too-strong emotion, and there is nothing worse than a performer experiencing deeper emotion than the audience. I become Eponine, but I restrain myself. I feel her pain but at a distance. I see the hopes and dreams of lights on the river and mist and moonlight, but I do not let myself settle in too comfortably.

I forget a few words but it’s okay because I sustain one word through the line and it’s smooth enough and maybe two people realize.

And as I get to the last page of the music, the part where she’s lonely and broken and loving emptily, I take my time. Because that’s what it’s all about, really, taking time. Resting in silence and resting in the soft suspension of song.

As I stand for a brief moment as the piano finishes and I release Eponine into the room and out of myself, I wish my student were sitting there, just so she could see what a work she has done in me.

Grumpy Mornings

hot3

I believe in morning singing.

Every year I was in College Choir, we’d have a morning Christmas concert for donors and trustees. It usually started at 10:00, which meant we were expected to drag ourselves out of bed around 6:30 because it takes three hours to wake up the voice (according to our conductor). I’m not a morning person now, but throw in late-night conversations over tea (wait! I mean late-night studying!) and I’m even worse.

I think I woke up at 6:30 ONCE for a concert.

After that, I relied on strong coffee and elaborate warm-ups sung to the wall of Phillips Recital Hall.

The thing is, my professor was right. My voice never woke up in time. Those were certainly not our best performances in the early mornings of December.

But I believe in morning singing.

music2

[I’m the blurry one right in the middle. Good memories of being one of a thousand daughters in “Pirates of Penzance”.]

I thought about this as I drove to work. I thought about it as I listened and hummed to a silly song on the radio (I won’t tell you what it was, but if you’ve ridden with me in the past few months, you can probably take a good guess). I thought how terrible I sounded as I sang and how I had to sing it up the octave and lightly because, well, my voice was still asleep.

I also thought there might not be a better way for me to start my day.

I am grumpy in the morning. Ask my parents. They are chronically happy when they wake up, and they don’t understand why I’m flying about, angry about this or that, the world collapsing around me as I’m not-late-but-almost-late for work.

My Dad sings almost every morning.

No, not hymns. At least not usually.

He tends more towards classic rock or whatever’s struck his fancy on the radio lately. And I’m trying to get ready for work, my voice is sleeping,  the rest of my body wishes it were, and I’m trying to hold it together while he sings.

I wish that I greeted each day with singing.

I wish that my voice woke up as soon as my eyes opened. I think maybe then I’d have better starts to my days.

It’s easy to sing when the sun is shining and the air is warm. It’s harder to sing when it’s dark in the mornings and dark in the evenings and rainy in between.

I miss the days of singing with friends. Of creating music because it was our job and our delight. Yes, I still do occasionally. But it isn’t quite the same.

Sometimes I sing in my car on the way to work. Sometimes I don’t. I think my students can tell which kind of day it is as soon as I walk in the door.

music

[This is from our second-to-last class recital ever. Goofy is always better.]

Good Things #27: 2013 Edition

What were some of the highlights of 2013? Miley Cyrus, of course. Actually, that isn’t true at all. I made it through the year without laying eyes on her infamous performance, and I hope to keep it that way. (This might frustrate Kate, the queen of the internet, merely because it solidifies my old-fashioned and misplaced irritation with modern technology.)

My highlights might not by Hollywood-worthy, but they’re the best of another sort. And there are only six, not five or ten or fourteen, because six is how many I thought of.

grendels1

1. Cafe shopping. There’s something about opening new doors for the first time, wondering what you’ll find behind enchanting names like Breaking New Grounds, The Blue Mermaid, or my favorite, Grendel’s Den. This has been a year of finding new digs, partly because – for the first time – I have a steady paycheck and I don’t live in constant fear of “Oh my gosh, do I have five dollars in my account?” anymore. There’s something about dark wood and dim lighting that makes me want to curl up and pay hand over fist for delicious things. Good thinking, restaurant owners.

2. Making music. My friend sent me a recording. It was me and seven college friends singing “An Irish Blessing” at one of our recitals. It’s an eight-part piece and because sopranos are a dime a dozen and I have a little more weight to my voice I’m Alto I, a part I never feel comfortable singing. I listened to it over and over, remembering how the sound filled the hall, what it felt like to make music with people I’d shared so many memories with. This summer, I’ll be singing an eight-part song at my college roommate’s wedding, five years after we made this first recording.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
until we meet again,
may God, may God hold you
in the palm of His hand.

[This is a similar recording of the arrangement we sang by Graeme Langager, only ours was mixed voices.]

3. Friends. I read this quote in Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, and I paused because I have felt this intensely this past year:

They say – or maybe I said – that a good marriage is one in which each spouse secretly thinks he or she got the better deal, and this is true also of our bosom friendships. You could almost flush with appreciation. What a great scam, to have gotten people of such extreme quality and loyalty to think you are stuck with them. Oh my God. Thank you.

I am so grateful for friends who understand me. I am also grateful for friends who, when they don’t understand me, love me anyway.

4. Christian Wiman.

christian wiman

When I first encountered Christian Wiman, I was so overcome with overwhelmed-ness that I emailed an old art professor to share my joy. It was this article that first introduced me to this man of faith and art, and what was it that caught me so immediately? This man who was faced with his own death (cancer) slowly and carefully examined his latent faith and found it there, curled deep inside him, even when he thought (and maybe hoped) it was dead. My Bright Abyss, Wiman’s collection of thoughts on faith, may very well get a post of its own, but here are some of my favorite quotes:

Life is short, we say, in one way or another, but in truth, because we cannot imagine our own death until it is thrust upon us, we live in a land where only other people die.

…it involves allowing the world to stream through you rather than you always reaching out to take hold of it.

Falling in love seems at the same time an intensification of consciousness and the loss of it. Never are the physical facts of existence more apparent and cherished, and never is their impermanence more obvious and painful.

I think of this when I hear people say that they have no religious impulse whatsoever, or when I hear believers, or would-be believers. express a sadness and frustration that they have never been absolutely overpowered by God. I always want to respond: Really? You have never felt overwhelmed by, and in some way inadequate to, an experience in your life, have never felt something in yourself staking a claim beyond your self, some wordless mystery straining through words to reach you? Never?

He is currently in remission, and his latest book of poetry, Every Riven Thing, is on my list.

5. Boots. This might not seem to fit with the other things in this post, but this year I discovered the beauty and ease of boots.

boots

They immediately transform any mediocre outfit into a work of, if not art, at least style. Oh, you’re wearing THAT again? Wait, what are those? Oh my gosh, I love them!

Crisis averted.

6. Recommendations. This is a blend of numbers three and four because good friends recommend good things. I get most of my music from other people, from my city-friend to my brother, and a lot of my books are recommendations, too. My friend Bryn who blogs over at All My Roads, recently wrote a post of 14 Books for 2014, and I was struck by how great they are. Not only had I loved the ones I’d already read, but I wanted to rush out to the book shop and grab the ones I hadn’t.

[And miracle of miracles, my city-friend went and bought me Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal – with no prompting from me – and I wonder if my friends who don’t know each other are in cahoots.]

It’s good to have people you trust in your life to tell you what to read. And listen to. And do.

So, there you have it. Enjoy your Wednesday!

 

Good Time Saturday Night

I am sitting in a darkened home. Three children are asleep upstairs and the refrigerator hums as I type.

[I felt my body being jostled and there she was, all seven-years of her, shaking me. I’d fallen asleep watching Master Chef Jr. at 8:30. That does not fly when you haven’t seen each other in months and there is still so much to talk about.]

What did we talk about?

She told me about school and how “first grade is so boring.” (“Boring” seems to be the new word.) I asked her why.

“All we do is sit at desks and do math.”

“That sounds pretty boring,” I said.

“I miss kindergarten.”

Don’t we all.

“I wish I were your teacher. Then we could have fun and learn at the same time.”

But I shouldn’t have said it because I saw her eyes dart for a moment with the thought of it.

We watched the oldest brother play flag football, losing terribly. They played tag because let’s face it, I wasn’t feeling it. We sang Lorde’s “Royals” and Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and a thousand other songs. Catherine, everyone is looking at us ’cause you’re singing.

And?

They got over it pretty quickly and joined in. Don’t worry. We weren’t too obnoxious.

He threw his body and contorted himself in all different shapes until finally I said,

“You watch it. No hospital runs until after I eat my dinner.”

They thought that was the funniest thing. Oh, Catherine said she won’t take us to the hospital until after she eats. Better be careful! 

We laughed in the pizza place waiting for our order. The middle boy shook my soda till all the bubbles filled the bottle. We almost took the wrong food. I forgot to order the mozzarella sticks. We licked our fingers.

They told me about their new babysitter, who sounded nice.

But she, as though concerned for my feelings, leaned over and whispered in my ear,

“You’re funner.”

I read Angelina Ballerina, did not give in to the half-hearted request for more, smoothed hair, turned out lights.

The 10, 9, and 5-year-old are now 11, 10, and 7. They still guess that I’m in my thirties, wonder where my children are, and ask if I can have sleepovers.

Not bad for a Saturday night.

Singing Through the Rests

We had to take an ear training class in college for four semesters. It was four semesters of sight-singing, solfege, rhythm, harmonizing, chord recognition, and dictation. To put it kindly, I was not exactly the shining star of this class. I liked to hide in the back and make snide comments to my friend-in-crime — your sense of humor gets honed when you feel like a dunce.

I had a particularly difficult time with rhythm. Pauses, to be exact. I was always too excited to wait the allotted rests, and instead would like to plow along, ignorant, often, of my musical faux pas. The “musicians” in the class (a.k.a., the non-singers) would sigh and shake their heads at me. I was only a singer, after all.

The other night, I learned where I got this terrible non-rest-observing trait.

It runs in the family, and it comes from my great-grandmother.

We sat at the piano (after I dusted the keys and smoothed out the hymnal and pulled up an armchair for Gram). For over an hour we played and sang. You wouldn’t think the tiny woman next to me at the piano was the same woman who sat sideways in her recliner. The woman who asks me the same question two or three times in the span of five minutes is also the woman who remembers every word to “Blessed Assurance” and “In the Garden” and “Rock of Ages.”

And she has a decent ear for tune, still.

She sang right along with me, her 104-year-old vocal cords showing their age, but her love of music outshining even her exhaustion.

[“It does a heart good to sing a song once in awhile,” she said.]

We sang and sang, my family cringing at my wrong notes, but she didn’t seem to mind. [Trick of the trade: drop the tenor or alto line if you can’t hack it.] I’d been wondering for two years what good my music degree was. I guess hearing your great-grandma sing is a pretty good reason.

The thing is, though, she never paused long enough. Every time there was a rest or a held note, she powered on through, halfway through the next line before my fingers could catch up. This happened again and again, until finally it dawned on me:

It’s genetic!
My inability to keep silent through rests is not my fault!

It’s all hers!

And I rejoiced.

[“Gram, it’s bedtime. Let’s sing one more and then we have to go to bed.”

“Do I have to?”

And who could say no to that?

So we stayed up another half an hour, sang a few songs more than once – because if you forget you sang them, what’s the point?

And the only way I could get her to go to bed was by promising we’d sing again soon.]

Good Things Whenever #12

My Good Things Mondays have been tossed about by 1) my lack of planning and attention, 2) my lack of time, and 3) that’s pretty much it.

Not that there has been a shortage of good things lately. One might say that I’ve been discovering more and more good things with these last few weeks. These kids are hilarious (a little anecdote: a thirteen-year-old boy in my class loves sausage, so every time I ask for a noun, he shouts out, “Sausages!” and I die laughing.)

Even though I’ve been teaching and living at school, I’ve still been able to go to the farmers’ market on the weekends. We even tried out a new market Saturday – our name’s getting out there.

Among the new things I’ve discovered:

This is my new favorite musician. It was one of those moments – you know what I’m talking about. You put a cd in your car radio, a cd a friend claimed to love and then lent you, making you a little nervous about both your response to said music and if his taste in music will cause you to avoid the topic all together in the future. But you pop it in, and the first chord – the first sound of his voice in your car – reminds you of the most beautiful reasons we create.

We write because we are confused, and confusion gets worked out through pen and paper and sharing.

We make music because it is the thrum of life. Because it is in so many ways a universal language. Because I truly believe God has a special place for notes strung together and shaped into stories.

And when redemption is longed for, the beginning of redemption has begun.

I have one day of teaching left, and one day with these students I am only beginning to know and understand. I will never see them again. They will be strewn across the globe and I am only one woman in a small town in Massachusetts. But I know that every time they hear “English only!”, every time they listen to Adele’s “Someone Like You” and the Beatles’ “When I’m 64” and Joan Baez’s rendition of “Boots of Spanish Leather,” they will think of Miss Hawkins.

[Lyrics to James Vincent McMorrow’s song]

“We Don’t Eat”

If this is redemption, why do I bother at all?

There’s nothing to mention, and nothing has changed

Still I’d rather be working for something, than praying for the rain

So I wander on, until someone else is saved

 

I moved to the coast, under a mountain

Swam in the ocean, slept on my own

At dawn I would watch the sun cut ribbons through the bay

I’d remember all the things my mother wrote

 

That we don’t eat until your father’s at the table

We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust

Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love

So if I were you, I’d have a little trust

 

Two thousand years, I’ve been in that water

Two thousand years, sunk like a stone

Desperately reaching for nets

That the fishermen have thrown

Trying to find, a little bit of hope

 

Me, I was holding all of my secrets soft and hid

Pages were folded, then there was nothing at all

So if in the future I might need myself a savior

I’ll remember what was written on that wall

 

That we don’t eat until your father’s at the table

We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust

Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love

So if I were you, I’d have a little trust

 

Am I an honest man and true?

Have I been good to you at all?

Oh I’m so tired of playing these games

We’d just be running down

The same old lines, the same old stories of

Breathless trains and worn down glories

Houses burning, worlds that turn on their own

 

So we don’t eat until your father’s at the table

We don’t drink until the devil’s turned to dust

Never once has any man I’ve met been able to love

So if I were you my friend, I’d learn to have just a little bit of trust