Something to Capture Your Heart

by Hannah the Zebra

First, let me make it clear that I am not a professional musician.  While I do have some training, I have neither the six-year BFA and MFA required, nor the patience with vacillating paychecks.  But each one of us needs something that captures our heart and nourishes us, and for me that is singing. Five years ago, I decided to join the volunteer summer choir at our church.  I hadn’t trained or sung seriously in the twenty-one years since I had been pregnant with our younger daughter.  I figured that summer choir was a good way to sort of get my hand back in.

So I showed up and sang almost every Sunday that summer of 2005.  In August, Olga, our pastoral care priest, suggested that I audition for the regular choirs.  I resisted.  I gave her all the reasons why I couldn’t.  I had fibromyalgia and was stretching it just to work full time.  I couldn’t possibly commit to singing every Sunday.  I hadn’t sung seriously in twenty-one years and was very, very out of practice.  I didn’t have time.  I didn’t have the stamina.  And for goodness sake, if you knew ahead of time you were going to be absent, you had to fill out an absence form.  What if I got sick? And I probably gave her several more excuses that I can no longer remember.  Olga is very tenacious. She let it drop for a few weeks, and then brought it up again.  Both times, she said,  “Hannah, I’ve watched you every Sunday.  You are so happy when you sing.  You need to audition.  At least go talk to the choir director, because I think some of your preconceptions are not necessarily true.”  So I reluctantly agreed to go talk to James.  After all, I wasn’t committing to actually auditioning.

I went home and that evening, mentioned at the dinner table that Olga really was bugging me to audition. Our younger daughter was home, and both she and my husband immediately said that they thought that Olga was right, and I should.  They wouldn’t listen to my excuses either.  For them I even added the very real concern that I hadn’t auditioned for anything in over twenty years and I was a lousy vocal sight-reader. And the level of musicianship required?  I mean, these choirs sing Mozart masses on Christmas Eve. I figured I couldn’t possibly pass the audition for any choir that sang full works with a Köchel number.  Oh, and on top of everything else, vocal auditions terrify me.  Acting auditions?  No sweat.  Not only am I a natural ham, but I have had only minimal training in theater, and thus hardly any of my ego is involved.  And I would never dream of auditioning for an acting position at a semi professional level.  But vocal auditions? I have been known to be so nervous that all I could produce was a tiny, mousy, unfocused tone.  I also don’t have a lot of confidence in my voice.  I measure myself against professional classical singers.  Ridiculous, I know, since I have had probably less than 1% of the training they have had.  But there’s my perfectionism again.  And I care desperately about singing.

I called our older daughter in New York.  First, let me say that even though she had only met Olga after she had graduated from college and was living and working in New York, she has a deep and abiding respect for Olga’s perception of things.  To this day, if she is trying to get me to do something that she knows would be good for me, and I am resisting, she will frequently say in a no-nonsense tone, “I think you should go talk to Olga about this.”  Secondly, my husband and our two children are my biggest cheerleaders, frequently having far more confidence in my abilities than I do myself.  Our older daughter said something to the effect of, “Olga is telling you to audition because you are so obviously happy when you sing?  Go for it. You’ll be fine.”

Well, you can see that my excuses had about as much affect on my family as they did on our pastoral care priest.  And my husband absolutely agreed that I was happier when I sang.  I’d sung in the early years of our marriage, and now he was watching me sing again. He said I was not just happier while I was singing, but just happier period.  I asked him if he would mind the time commitment involved. He said that he figured it was a good trade.  While it was true that he would see me less, I was happier when I was singing, and he thought that would be good all ’round.

So one Sunday after the summer choir had sung for the 11:00 service, I talked with our choir director. It turns out that Olga was right (Sigh. She usually is.) and I had several misconceptions about how the two adult choirs worked.  First, and perhaps most importantly for me, I wouldn’t be committed to sing every Sunday.  On weeks you were scheduled to perform, the total time commitment was approximately 7 hours. Other weeks only required 11/2 – 2 hours. Dress rehearsals before major performances were an additional 3 hours, usually on a Saturday.  And if you were sick, you could phone in your absence to the choir hot line.

That all actually sounded manageable to me.  At least manageable enough to try.  I truly am scared of vocal auditions, however, and I am not naturally a courageous person.  But singing is something that reaches deep inside of me and helps me feel whole and complete. It is hard work, but for me it is also healing. I had to take a deep breath to steady my nerves before I asked James, “How do I put myself on the ‘I would like to audition please’ list?”