Last week, in a rare move, I posted on social media that I was going to be singing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Alleluia (from Exultate, Jubilate, K. 165) at my church for any local friends who might want to come. I got the most lovely outpouring of friends wishing me well, old friends and new, friends from across the country and across the street. I was very moved.
These days, I don't sing in front of people very often. I mean, I sing in my church choir, but, as far as getting up on a stage and really performing regularly, I haven't done that since I was pregnant with my first child.
When you've been a performer and then, suddenly, you're not, it will throw you for a loop. I struggled with figuring out what my identity was after giving up the performing life. I should note that I didn't decide to give it up when I had kids. I fought and fought and fought to try to get to auditions, to figure out childcare, to keep up with my vocal, dance, and acting training.
When my oldest was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, I knew that the fight to keep that part of my identity alive wasn't a battle I could win. I went to pediatric occupational therapy instead of auditions. I studied websites about SPD instead of audition notices. I put away my audition books and brought out the (nearly) indestructible board books instead.
However, I did keep one thing for myself: my standing voice lesson. Some people go to the gym for stress relief. I sing. Or I immerse myself in music so fully that my whole body resonates with it. That may be dancing or playing the piano or just listening to a really great song turned up to top volume. Music is such an integral part of who I am that I feel that I might actually die without it.
So, at my voice lessons, week after week, I would chip away at working on music that I had always wanted to sing, even though I knew I would probably never have the opportunity. It was my own little bucket list of opera, musical theatre, and jazz. The Mozart "Alleluia" was on that list.
When our church's Minister of Music mentioned that the choir was off-duty the week after Easter, I casually mentioned that I could fill in and sing if he needed me to. Oh, and that I happen to sing this song. He took me up on it. And, all of a sudden, that bucket list song was moving into reality.
I wasn't kidding when I said that it's one of my favorite things to sing. I have a voice that loves to move. Between this, "Rejoice" from The Messiah, and Rossini, I could happily sing coloratura all the time. I will say that Mozart's piece is a little tricky though. As a friend jokingly pointed out, "A 16-year-old wrote it. How hard can it be?" Well, I can tell you: it is hard. Really hard.
I worked and worked and worked on it. And here's how it came out:
I had so many compliments and even got applause at the end, which, for our Episcopal church, NEVER happens. That warms my heart like you wouldn't believe. Truly. There is no greater compliment to a performer than for someone to say that they were touched by a performance.
But here's the thing. It's hard for me to watch/listen to it. REALLY hard. All I hear are the mistakes. All I hear are the things that I did better in rehearsal. All I hear are the things I need to keep working on.
I wasn't going to share it at all because I don't consider it to be perfect. And then my voice teacher told me that I should. If I'm going to reclaim my identity as a singer, then I have to start being a singer and putting myself out there. That part of being a performer is knowing that it's not going to always be perfect. It's actually rare that it is. A couple of years ago, Idina Menzel said that if she hits 75% of her notes, it's a successful night. If I recall correctly, she caught a bit of flack for that (more than a bit, really). I mean, shouldn't she be hitting everything 100% all the time?
Well, sometimes your 100% that day is the 75% of the day before. When I opened my mouth to sing, my nerves kicked in and I couldn't breathe. You can't see it in the video, but my internal voice was saying, "Low breath! Lower!!" I got a phlegm-ball in my throat that was doing its best to keep anything from coming out at all. And, at one point, I started to feel woozy because I hadn't had anything to eat or drink that morning (and I wasn't breathing). But I was also internally saying the prayer that I say every time I sing in church on a loop in my head, "Lord, make me your instrument. What I have to give is from you. Give me the strength to share it and the peace to live in it."
With that in mind, I'm writing about it and sharing it today. Part of what makes us human is our vulnerability and our imperfections. My ego would have said, "Oh, I didn't get a recording of it! Maybe next year!" But that's not honest. And it's certainly not living into the last part of my own prayer. So, today, I'm working on having the strength to share it and praying for the peace to be okay with that.