Singing at home

Moving beyond “meh”

The adjective that best describes tonight’s weekly singing: “meh.”

Every musical ensemble has its moments when not much seems to go right; moments when tempers may grow short, when small errors reinforce each other, when the best musical intentions can’t seem to effect improvement. Tonight wasn’t the worst musical experience I’ve ever had, not by a long shot. (It was nowhere near as bad, for example, as that Christmas Eve gig where the guitarist showed up late and out of tune after which none of the rest of us could ever get back in tune. Nor was it as bad as the time someone asked me, who sings bass for good reason, to sing high harmony over a tenor voice. Nor was it as bad as the choral concert where the basses were singing three different versions of the bass part, none of which was correct.) But tonight was no better than “meh.”

And tonight’s singing got me thinking about what it is I try to do when things don’t go well musically. Mostly I try to focus on the basics of my own performance. So tonight I focused on Sacred Harp basics — trying to sing every note accurately, trying to follow the leader — and on the basics of singing — breathing, intonation, enunciation, and relaxing the throat, face, and mouth. And I also try to stay patient, which is difficult as I am not a particularly patient person, and this is one of my great musical weaknesses.

I think one of the most challenging aspects of making music with other people is the way it can force one to confront one’s own personal weaknesses. While certainly the whole class was having its problems at tonight’s singing, I had to confront my own personal problems as well: that I was tensing up my throat and mouth and not always breathing from the diaphragm, which caused my intonation to waver and which made me mispronounce words; that I was not fully concentrating on singing the notes; that I am not a patient person.

Being a minister, of course I think there’s a theological aspect to this. Making music with others is an exercise in mindfulness and humility. It is an exercise in getting the self out of the way so that we can experience union with something greater than ourselves.

One reply on “Moving beyond “meh””

I think our not-so-wonderful singings have a lot to teach us, and I appreciate your lifting this up.
I know that one thing that comes up for me is compassion, both for myself and others. Sometimes we mess up because we’re just not paying attention. But sometimes we are really trying our best, and it just isn’t good enough. Struggling through with each other even when it doesn’t sound great forges connections as much as those transporting moments when we are in synch and in tune.
To me, one of the blessings of singing Sacred Harp is that, wonderful or terrible or somewhere in between, we move on.

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