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Singing Humbly

I’ve reached the age where I know what I do well: I write well. I can structure the heck out of a novel. I can create characters who will make you weep. I’m a pretty good teacher. I enjoy public speaking.  Then there are other things that teach me humility.


Today, I sat in Starbucks running through my notes for a characterization workshop I’ll be teaching at the November 14th meeting of the Heart of Carolina Romance Writers. I have this giant folder into which I’ve thrown all sorts of writing class material over the years, and I was  going through it, trying to figure out how to condense what I want to teach into an hour and a half. I came across something I’d written several years ago about God. I wrote about God as an experience rather than a “being.” I experienced God in the night sky, I wrote. In the fall leaves. In the sea. And in singing.


I stared at that phrase I experience the divine when I sing. I remember writing it. I remember feeling the truth in the words. But it is no longer true for me and I wonder if it’s a feeling I’ll ever be able to recapture.

When I wrote those words, I was singing regularly with an interfaith community choir, Mosaic Harmony, in Northern Virginia. (The picture here is one of my favorites, taken by my sig-other John, during a MoHa concert). Although we came from many faith backgrounds–Christian, Jewish, humanist, atheist–and our director often had to adjust the lyrics to make us all comfortable with the songs, we all had a love of the primarily Gospel music we were singing. I’ve never had a great voice, but I can carry a tune, and that was the only requirement. (Actually there were no requirements but I’d say most of us could manage that much). I had no choral experience (if you ignore junior high. I would dearly love to ignore junior high), but I was quickly swept up by the passion of the singing. We used no sheet music. When you’re rockin’ and clappin’, there’s no way to hold music. We had lyric sheets, which we quickly committed to memory and tossed–and we taped our parts and practiced them at home and in our cars until we had them down. We regularly performed one or two hour concerts, but we had months to learn each song and although we were by and large amateurs, we were good. We even cut a couple of CDs. Singing with MoHa, I had moments of rapture. There’s no other word to describe the feeling. At times, I sang through tears of joy.

Fast forward. I love my new church here in North Carolina, and I quickly joined the choir. As with most church choirs, we use sheet music and we learn songs quickly for upcoming services. I never did learn to sight read music and to say that I’m struggling is an understatement. This is a small choir with an excellent young director. The singers are so good! (If any of my fellow choir members are reading this post, know that you have my admiration along with my envy.) They’re handed a piece of music and start ripping through it–sometimes in latin, no less–while I’m still trying to figure out the first alto note. Determined, I take the music home and practice the alto part on my keyboard. But it is an intellectual exercise for me, not a spiritual one, and I can’t help it–that saddens me. I don’t foresee the day when I will have mastered this process enough to ever again feel the “rapture.” I’ve thought of taking music and voice classes, because I do love singing, but given my writing schedule I don’t see how I can fit them in.

I like to look at uncomfortable situations as learning opportunities. I don’t mean “learning how to sing.” I mean “What can I learn about Diane-in-the-world through this discomfort?” So far, I’ve learned that there are some things I simply suck at. LOL. A humbling experience, to be sure. I’ve also learned that I need to find ways other than singing to be in touch with the divine. I’ve discovered how hard it can be to learn new tricks, and I realize that I haven’t challenged myself this way in a long, long time. I may also learn that it’s okay to give up. Ouch. I’m not a good giver-upper. That could be an important thing to learn.

Can you relate to this? Are you stretching yourselves in ways that make you uncomfortable? Is it crazy to do so? I’d love to know what you’re learning about yourselves these days.

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Thanks for sharing, Diane

As regards the singing, I just wonder whether the following might help:-

Try to adopt a way of thinking that the alto line is a whole new alternative melody which you're exploring and learning off by heart and is every bit as important as the main tune(often more so). Focus on that. The rest is timing.

In general terms its a good idea to develop the habit of watching how your line fits into the scheme of things above and below. And don't be put off by that phase of 'unknowing' which usually comes just before you really master the music and it's 'sung in'.

If you persevere, it will fall into place and you'll rejoice in your skills and will experience the piece in a different way. The rapture will return. This, you can apply to anything you really want to achieve.

I always think that a difficulty conquered is a victory right across the board because it ensures that your tools for life are well-honed.