Tag Archives: singing

July 5, 2013

I am sitting in a colorful floral dress. The tent I am under blocks the sun, but there is no denying the 95-degree heat, or the fact that there is a line of men standing at the front in three-piece suits. I am immediately grateful for my female status (and the accompanying summer dresses).

There are so many people sitting around me – many I know peripherally, a few I’ve known for over twenty years, their faces as familiar as family. July 5th, 2013 crept up on me, after a life of Dunkin’ Donuts Dunkaccinos and chocolate doughnuts, White Farms key lime pie ice cream, wiffle ball, touch-football, volley ball, “Tribute to the Best Song in the World”, Strong Bad, three goofballs talking and laughing over a beer.

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I have had the amazing privilege of watching one of my oldest friends marry one of my dearest friends. Not too many people can say that. As we all stood, singing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” I listened to the harmonies that filled the air in that tent, and I thought how beautifully lives were converging right in front of me. From the multi-colored florets made lovingly by women in the bride’s life to the music performed by gifted family, this wedding was like seeing their two souls overlaid.

~     ~     ~

The ceremony is over, we are standing, clapping, hooting, when suddenly music starts playing. They are singing – the newlyweds – singing and dancing and the bridal party joins in. A wedding flash mob? Yes, please. Make it to the Muppets’ “Life’s a Happy Song” and let me join in from the audience, surprising my family, and it’s even better.

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I sing “Life’s a piece of pie!” and run up the aisle to join the dancing. We’re all smiling, singing to the surprised audience, all these faces I have loved for so long, and I’m grateful to be part of this day.

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[Later, at the reception, I will need to leave the room as the bride dances with her father to Eva Cassidy’s rendition of “Fields of Gold.” I will rush past the groom’s mother whose eyes will also be glistening, I will run down the stairs and walk around the parking lot, crying alone in the hot summer evening. I won’t fully understand this strong reaction, but I will know that it’s all mixed in with growing up, friendships, changes, love that never happened and love that might happen, and the realization that the midwest is calling my friends away from me. All this will happen, but then I will wipe my eyes, run back up the stairs, and dance for the following three hours.]

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[Proof that I take my dancing a little too seriously. And that my friends are cool.]

Babies grow up and marry their great loves and change the lives of those around them.

The Writing Life [and its many components]

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The feeling I get standing in the wings, waiting to walk out on stage.

The scratchy grass on my back, the sun too bright in my eyes, and the smell of the earth baking.

Singing “Caput, umeri, genua, pedes” (“head, shoulders, knees, and toes”…or feet, technically) til I feel like I’ve gotten my workout for the day.

Digging in the cold, icy earth first thing in the spring. Clearing away old brush. Seeing nothing but gray-brown until one sunny morning green shoots magically appear.

The moment I scan through the mail and see in beautiful or messy or barely-there handwriting my name and address. Opening a letter that’s traveled from Pennsylvania or Maine or Switzerland. Remembering that geography isn’t strong enough to destroy good friendships.

The ocean, cold and thick with seaweeds. The feeling of rough sand on my feet, when I can barely see because the wind is whipping my hair in my face. The long stretches of days when for a moment I truly think it will never end.

When I walk around the corner at a museum and come upon a life-size sculpture. The lines of the body, the artistry in the way the cloak is draped across the torso, the way the sculpture seems to be breathing right there in front of me.

Explaining the word “etymology” to a too-young class because they’re too excited to wait. Opening their minds up to the beauty of language and the world ahead of them.

The way I feel when I’m surrounded by people I love. Maybe at my house, maybe at a dark cozy restaurant, maybe at a beach house or church or the lake.

~     ~     ~

I don’t think it’s possible to be a writer and love only writing.

Last summer, I wrote a post about my plans to write when I was at the beach for a week. I foolishly anticipated long stretches of time when I would be able to read and write to my heart’s content. What I forgot to factor in was people: the people who make everything worth it. Who can turn down a four-hand cribbage game with the Gram, a brother, and a cousin? Who can stay cozied up on a beach chair while everyone else goes for a long ambling walk along the ocean? Who asks a room-full of family to “Please stop singing along to the record player because I’m trying to write?”

Some people probably do, but this girl finds it pretty difficult.

Writing is a solitary act in so many ways. Right now, I’m sitting at my kitchen table, waiting for the water to boil so I can fill my french press. I’m alone, and that’s okay for now. In fact, it’s rather nice. In the long term, though? Not so much fun.

Maybe there is a writer out there who loathes people. Maybe he sits at his desk for ten hours a day and throws his hands up in gratitude that he never has to interact with anyone. Maybe he doesn’t like music or art or the outdoors or any of the other beautiful things of life.

I don’t think I’d really connect with whatever he wrote.

~     ~     ~

I had a long talk with a friend from college. He was asking what I was up to, what life looked like lately. I told him about teaching Latin (“You wouldn’t believe it! When I teach them derivatives it’s like they cannot believe ‘manipulate’ comes from manus and they freak out.” Granted, this is only my younger grades. My high schoolers are a little less enthused.), directing Alice in Wonderland (“Do you know what it’s like to have those songs stuck in your head ALL THE TIME?”), and applying to MFA programs (Um, scared.). It was in talking with him that I remembered one of the best parts of being a writer: Everything I do will add to it.

I came across this woman from Colorado. We’d actually met briefly four or five years ago, but I found her because of Twitter (that all-too-kind-suggester thought we should be friends). We’ve been writing back and forth, and she was telling me about applying to grad school – but in history, not writing. What is history if not stories? What is music if not stories in sound? And what is good conversation if not a sharing of our personal plot lines?

Being a writer is like having the biggest job description ever.

Do I make my money from writing?

Not yet.

But writing makes you look at the world and your life in a different way. It makes you more attuned to the little things, and it reminds you that sharing those experiences and being able to reproduce a moment of truth for someone else is your job.

[Over-nighted my last MFA application. Any nervousness I would’ve felt was nervoused-away in the days leading up to it. I popped it in the mail between Latin classes, and I’m currently attempting to pretend to forget.]

Writing (and reading) connect us to each other. Just as I met Anne who’s going to study history, I can write about any of those things and someone in the middle of South Dakota or Canada or the United Kingdom probably loves them too. It’s all part of living the Full Life, like I tried weakly to express in an earlier post. It’s one of those constant discoveries I keep discovering.

Do I regret going for walks at the beach? Playing cribbage and screaming during games of Taboo? Do I wish I’d really committed and sat down and written line after line of poetry or what-have-you? No way.

Karaoke and Curry

Last night I did something for the first time.

I sang at a karaoke bar.

Okay, it wasn’t a karaoke bar. We were at an Indian restaurant that has karaoke on Saturday nights (weird, I know). With the smell of curry wafting through the room, the long-haired dj sang his heart out, waiting for people to get the courage to come on up and sing.

While the few people in the room were trying to convince all the other people to sing, my friend nodded his head across the way.

“What about that guy over there? Why don’t you go hit on him?”

I looked over at the only man at the bar – a guy around my age. He had his nose buried in his iPod, and I don’t think he looked up for ten minutes.

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, I don’t think so.”

“Okay, how about him?” he said, gesturing toward a portly gray-haired man who was barely taller than I am.

“What the heck?! Cut it out.”

So after an hour or so of witty banter and teasing, he finally coerced me and B, my roommate from college, to sing. I should’ve known better. I kept saying, “No, no thanks. Not really interested in embarrassing myself.” And they just couldn’t understand why two women with degrees in music would pass up an opportunity to sing in front of people.

Maybe because I don’t know how to sing with a microphone?

Maybe because I’m used to practicing for hours before getting up there?

Maybe because I’m classically trained and don’t know a thing about belting or how to perform a pop song and make it sound good?

Maybe all three of those reasons?

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[This is a little more up my alley. Or at least this is how I’m more used to performing. Here I’m singing a setting of some of my favorite Psalms composed by a friend of mine from college. I can’t wait til I can say I knew him when!]

But I got up there and did it. My friend and I sang together, but our song choice was horrible. That’s also part of the problem: all the songs that sound good in my voice and that I can perform well are so sad. Give me a melancholy song any day, and I’ll rock it. “Cry Me a River” is a powerful, knock-your-socks-off number. But that’s not the kind of song that makes for good karaoke.

Nobody booed or threw their garlic naan at us, but there was a general sense of BUMMER. When I sat down, I thought: I am never doing this again.

I’d changed my mind by the time I woke up this morning. I have to redeem myself. Next time, I’m singing something a little more sassy, a little more upbeat. Something that says “I’m fun and I sing at karaoke nights.”

Let’s Give ’em Something to Talk About.

Christmas Joy at 6:28am

I woke up far too early for a Sunday morning. I was mad.

My alarm was set for 8:00 – the perfect amount of time to shower and get ready for a 9:30 church service. But the clock said 6:28, and there was no hope of falling back to sleep.

So I spent the first moments of Sunday, December 9th, realizing that I am entirely and completely not ready for Christmas.

Yes, our tree is up. Yes, I went to the Christmas concert at my Alma Mater this weekend, and yes, it was “aesthetically pleasing in every way.”

Yes, I went to the first Christmas party of the season last night. Yes, I have already eaten too many cookies.

But did I decorate the tree? No, I was at work.

Did I sing in the concert? Yes, but it annoyed everyone around me. (Just kidding. I contained myself.)

Did I bake the cookies? No, I just consumed them.

Today will be the day I regain some holiday spirit.

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First step: coffee. I am not addicted. It’s half-caff.

Church. I am not really in the mood. But I will say, every time I have dragged myself there, every time I have prayed that God would open my eyes, it has been worth it. (It doesn’t seem worth it now, in my cozy pajamas with the candles burning and the tree lit…)

String popcorn and cranberries. Unnecessary, you say? I think not.

FIGURE OUT WHAT I’M GIVING TO PEOPLE. Oh. my. gosh. I have no idea what I’m gonna do. My little brother is leagues better than I am at gifts – he’s been done for weeks. So annoying. The only gift I have is a sweater I made my other brother (that thing counts as so many gifts, I’m set for years.)

Lesson planning. NOOOOOO!!! But I’m thinking of working mostly on Christmas songs in Latin. The grammar school kids have been begging me, and I have a sneaky idea of making my high schoolers carol around the school. (What’s the point of power if you don’t use it?!)

Music. I’ve had enough of this everyday music junk I’ve been listening to. Bring on Messiah.

Prayer. Scripture. How can I be surprised things feel so harried and “un-Christmas-y” if I haven’t taken the time to soak up the moments?

And, last but not least, family. Working six days a week is okay when you like your job, but that doesn’t mean other things don’t suffer. I can’t wait to sit on the couch with my family and watch a Christmas movie. Maybe a little Bananagrams, if they think they’re up for the challenge.

Is it hard for everyone to take a breather and enjoy this time of year? People have told me for years that it “goes so fast,” they can’t believe it’s Christmas, etc. etc. I just hope I can grab a little bit of the calm and joy.

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Hot Mikado

The show is over.

It was so much fun. After four weeks of being exhausted, being scared I would never learn the part in time, and wondering why the heck did I say yes to this?, it’s all done.

When my friend called me up one night, asking if I’d be willing to step midway into the Hot Mikado, I hesitated. I haven’t really sung in a year. I’ve never had a lead role in a musical before (Beauty and the Beast “silly girls” and Magic Flute “second ladies” up the yin yang but no leads in sight), and, most of all, I was afraid I couldn’t do it.

That’s when I knew I had to do it.

I had to prove to myself that I could do it. I could learn the gospel solo. I could remember all the little lines that sneak up on you in the middle of songs and dialogue. I could learn fairly complicated dances (complicated for this free-style-lovin-dancer) and DANCE WHILE SINGING HARMONIES.

It was a quest. I worked hard, I was given a lot of grace from the director and cast, and I prayed that God would help me. Because a lot more than the show was riding on this.

[The doctors have decided to wait and see. See what my body does. My body has been given so much power over my life. Maybe that’s the way it should be?!]

Did I mention I was the sassy sister? The gospel-singing, sassy sister who stands up to the ugly old lady? Yeah, that’s right. Bring it.

After three shows, many rehearsals, and a lot of personally-inflicted stress, I stood on stage with the lights in my face, and I was overwhelmingly grateful.

He did it again. Thank you.

Singing in 2012

I haven’t really been able to sing at all this year.

Yeah, I sing in my church choir – go to the city Thursday nights for rehearsal, Sunday mornings for services – but that’s it.

Everything is tight and everything hurts and I know enough to know that’s not good.

Last fall when I was studying with a new teacher (I’d take the train in on Tuesdays, basking in the aloneness, in the lull of the train, in the beauty of the city in the fall), we both thought my technique must be getting worse. “You never did that before!” she said nervously as we both witnessed my jaw shaking uncontrollably.

And she was right, I never had that problem.

Maybe it’s my technique.

Maybe it’s because she scares me and I freak out.

Maybe it’s cause I’m mental.

All of those are valid reasons for these problems.

But it looks like it might be something more. Something physical.

I remember being in the practice room in college, looking in the mirror, and, after the thousandth time trying to sing a phrase, feeling tight and out of breath. I remember thinking something’s wrong with me. 

Something’s wrong.


But still, there is uncertainty. Surgery is scary, but only a little scarier than the idea of never singing again.

June can’t come quick enough, and yet even as it gets closer, I want to turn and run from it.

Easter Sunday

This Easter was different.

I went to my first Easter Vigil, snuck into the dark sanctuary, unsure of what was waiting. Scraped and squeaked the plasticky pew cushions every time I shifted (whose idea was it to put plastic in a place of quietness? certainly not someone as fidgety as I am…). Sat next to a dear friend and for the first time in a while, felt like I was worshiping with family. The scriptures were read in the dark, and the long line of people doing this, the Jews reading to each other the stories of Creation and the Exodus, the Christians telling the story of Christ’s redemption, the early church. History always catches me, makes me want to be a tiny part of it. I was now one of those Christians, one of who knows how many, who was hearing the Word of God.

This wasn’t high church – no gongs, no dramatic theater – it was like a mix of Evangelical understanding of Christ’s grandeur. A pretty good mixing, actually.

And after three hours of sitting, standing, singing, praying, we ate and ate and celebrated the resurrection of our God.

I had wanted the eating to be at midnight – the dawn of Easter Sunday – because that was symbolic. As the clock strikes midnight on that Sunday, we dance and jump and proclaim our salvation.

We ate at 11:30. Just shy of symbolic, but Easter Sunday was coming quickly, and 6:55am too quickly for me.

I slept in Brookline and rose FAR TOO EARLY to sing three services at another church, a historic church, a church that many good people have called home. But it doesn’t feel like home to me, and I am not looking forward to it. K. in her sweetness rises too, makes me a cup of coffee, pretends it’s normal to wake up so early on a weekend, and as I head out the door, we say, “Happy Easter!” and we mean it, our voices ringing in the empty Sunday streets.

After the second service, (and yes, of course we are singing the Hallelujah Chorus, among other oratorio pieces), I am wondering if I’m gonna make it. Another cup of coffee. A slice of smoked ham and cheese because there is nothing worse than passing out on risers because you don’t have enough protein. I am praying from where I sit on the floor, praying that I make it through, that God reminds me what it means to worship, what it means to have a ministry while you are trying to worship.

It was probably the hardest Easter Sunday I’ve had. I certainly didn’t feel at ease. That’s the way Pastors always feel, I guess, on their toes, ready to “perform.” Singing on a regular Sunday feels like that  too, but not nearly as bad.

Home there were plates of cheeses and humous, crackers and olives, rounds of warm brie with apricot jam (this made lovingly by my cousin), and later two hams dripping with juice, scalloped potatoes, homemade rolls.

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There is always someone serving.

My parents in the kitchen long before the meal, working to feed family and friends, slicing, baking, kneading and buttering.

Me, pretending to sing well even when I felt like I was so tired my vocal cords were dried up.

The Pastor, preaching the Good News of our redemption, of Christ’s miraculous resurrection, of God’s promise fulfilled.

I feel, this week, a sense of hope. I wish that every week there was such energy in my worship, in our churches, in our homes. I wish I were never self-conscious of proclaiming where my hope comes from. Maybe every year it will get a little easier, and I will be able to hold on to this joy that is Easter.