Audience

Roberta and I met Friday morning for coffee. It was remarkably good fellowship, which is saying a lot. Roberta is always great company, but this was more. More than just catching up with someone I love. This was heart to heart, the benedictions of life and peace and joy upon one another as fellow members of Christ’s Body. What a wonderful experience.

One of the things we spoke about is my complete lack of desire to sing or make music for an audience. We can speak honestly about this, folks. There was a time when I longed for audience. There was a time I believed my heart was there, on a stage, speaking life and hope to people too close to be strangers. And I don’t know precisely when it changed. I remember even in leading worship at the Tab that I made a subtle transition from wanting to “lead” to wanting to accompany and support a “leader.” When my brother got married six years ago and they asked me to sing a duet at the reception, I was so uncomfortable at the thought–but so comfortable with the reality.

I forget little things. For instance, I really do like the way my voice sounds in a microphone. And I really do enjoy looking out at people and making eye contact. And I love–more than almost anything in the entire world–noodling on the piano as I try to speak the words on my heart.

But I have long desired the solace of having no audience, no stage, and nobody looking at me.

The question is, as a musician, how do you love and pursue music without desiring an audience? This is a question I’ve pondered for years, and I am no nearer an answer than I was when I first posed it.

As Berta and I discussed this the other day, she–in her typical, gentle but challenging manner–suggested that maybe it would be good for me to be exposed to a bit of audience again. I love Roberta’s manner of making me feel totally uncertain and yet entirely certain. Of course audience is good for a musician, even if performance is not the aim.

So there I was, yesterday, sitting on the edge of the stage at the bandshell all alone, my bare, cracked feet swinging off the edge like a little girl, and my guitar in my arms. And I sang softly. There was no one nearby, so I allowed myself to have a little fun and let loose (which, if you know me, needs to happen more often). And so I’m singing one of my old favorites by Rich Mullins–My One Thing–and I’m hamming it out. And…?

This guy comes out of nowhere. With his dog. I figured he’d walk right by and all would be well, so I just kept going. Every night, every day, ya hold on tight or ya drift away, and you’re left to live with the choices ya make. Oh Lord, please give me the strength to watch and work and love and sing and pray…

Aaaaaand he sits down.

Wait…what?

Like, I know it’s an actual stage, and I know there are benches for the audience during concerts, but the fact that no one else is there and I’m sitting on the edge of the stage without any equipment other than a guitar (without even a pick, I might add) should clue you into the fact that this isn’t a concert. But he sat. And his dog sat. And wow–that was awkward.

But what the heck, right? I kept going. And I know that the pure…the pure in heart…and I know that the pure in heart shall see God. Yeah, I know that the pure…the pure in heart…yeah, I know that the pure in heart shall see God… and out of the corner of my eye, I see a young man with a lot of hair walking towards the bandshell. And I’m thinking, he’s headed for the restrooms. And the dude with the dog is just sitting there watching me with a silly grin on his face, but the song is over so instead of stopping and having an awkward moment with the stranger and his dog, I went right into another song–another favorite–Thankful by Caedmon’s Call. Of course, it isn’t nearly as awesome without the trash can beat, but…•shrug•

So I’m singing along, trying to be a little amusing for the guy with the dog, but secretly wishing I weren’t dumb enough to sit on the stage where people might mistake me for entertainment. Cause I am just like Lazarus, and I can hear Your voice. I stand and run my eyes and walk to You…because I have no choice. And I am thankful…

And the young guy with the hair? Nope. He isn’t headed for the restroom. He turns toward the stage, walks right up to the very first bench, and sits down.

Oooookay. If I hadn’t left my cell phone home to charge, I likely would have paused right there to call Roberta and make her come out to witness this odd moment of my existence. But I couldn’t, because I did leave my cell at home.

So I finish the song and pause long enough to say, “I wasn’t expecting an audience.” They both seemed amused by this remark, but neither made a move to leave. And since the dog had laid down on the ground by his walker’s feet, I figured–what can I lose? So I sang them another song–this time (be proud, folks), I sang one of my recents–Daisies, which I shared the lyrics to here on my blog recently.

And as I’m nearing the end…singing my very own song for these total strangers–a family of four walks up behind the benches. Mom and Dad and two little girls. And Dad just held the younger girl in his arms while Mom held the older girl’s hand. And me? I capo-ed the third fret and I sang the song I always sing over children, another one by Mullins–Let Mercy Lead.

And as I watched these people, watching me, I thought–being heard is not such a bad thing. It is that “being heard” that allows us to minister to one another, to speak truths through music that we are often unable to speak conversationally, to connect with people that we may have absolutely nothing in common with other than our humanity.

I stopped after that song. The family left. The man and his dog left. The young man with the hair spoke with me for a moment about guitars. And as I walked alone to my truck, with my guitar slung across my back (as no guitar-respecting young woman should ever do, because there is too great a risk of it falling [and trust me, duct tape does not fix a broken guitar]), I heard myself pray.

“God, what was that?”

But I didn’t really need to ask the question. I knew the answer.

It is just like God, too, isn’t it? We think we understand some aspect of our lives, our hearts. Someone (thank you, Roberta) speaks challenge to our assumed desires, and suddenly, God places the people and the circumstances in our lives to give us the opportunity: We can grow and learn, or we can remain as we have been.

I still have no desire to perform. But if you see me with my guitar, I hope you won’t be afraid to ask for a song, because the truth is–I don’t mind the audience.

Pax Christi.
Sar

Daisies

I don’t remember when we met–
I’ve known Him forever, it seems.
I don’t remember what I said
to capture His gaze on me.
I don’t remember why I needed Him in my life,
but I remember His kiss.

And He
brings me daisies
from the field
where we fell in love.
And I fall in love.

It’s been a million years, it seems
Since I’ve longed for Him this way.
The memories feel sometimes like dreams
That fade with the light of day.
And it’s been so long, still this yearning is strong,
cause I remember His kiss.

And He
brings me daisies
from the field
where we fell in love.
And I fall in love.

And I thought that I had somehow lost His heart, lost His love.
His word an obligation now to me, wrestled free from His vow.

He reached for me with open arms–
That safe and familiar touch.
He whispered softly to my heart
the words that I’ve missed so much.
His delight is in me, and always will be.
So I welcome His kiss.

And He
brings me daisies
from the field
where we fell in love.
And I fall in love.

Daisies

Songwriting & Daisies

What can I tell you?

I have fallen. Hard.

In an awkward conversation about jealousy (I won’t bore you with the details), a friend recently said to me, “I think you should keep writing songs.” How frustrating. How simple. How frustratingly simple.

How comforting!

I’m not sure what changed in my spirit when I read those words, but I felt as if a pile of dynamite was ignited in my soul. Suddenly, everything is alive.

And it is finding its place in my life again, the daily desire to simply pick up my guitar, to sing something–anything, to work on a new picking method, to clean my guitar, to write a song. All of these things are drawing me, day after day.

There is so much unfinished business. I have a binder of unfinished business on my bookshelf. It is disheveled and not worth much, I’m sure–but I find myself determined to go back and piece them together. There are songs there, on the random papers of my past.

And there are songs in the present. There are songs about new friends, old friends, changes in life, hugs…there are songs written, and songs to be written. I can’t get enough of it.

It’s a songwriting feast. I haven’t written like this in years. I thought…I thought it was gone. I thought I had lost “it.” I thought after my enormous life (and faith) blunders that God had taken my love, my passion, my calling (if that’s what you want to call it) and given it to someone more worthy.

The truth is, none of us are worthy. God doesn’t bless us because we are good, or because we deserve it. He blesses us because it is in His nature to do so–because He cherishes us, and He knows how to delight us. His delight is in us, and when we are delighted, I believe it delights Him. Just like a lover, who brings a daisy to his beloved, simply because he knows it will make her smile and exclaim at its beauty. Music is the daisy God gives me.

God is not slow with us. Sometimes we think that we’ve forfeited His blessings, His gifts. I’m not sure if that’s even possible, folks. I don’t know. Perhaps all this time, God has been bringing me daisies, and I’ve been simply too preoccupied to notice (or care). Or maybe He allows me a time without daisies so that I will remember the delight of them, and not simply fall into a routine of saying, “Oh, how lovely.”

What I do know is that He gives us our passions and talents for a reason. And He brings them to life if we will stop avoiding them.

How about you? What are you avoiding?

Pax,
Sar

The Quotable Floyd, part IV

Well, friends–here we are, one week post concert, and it is quote time. As always, I would encourage you to go back and read The Quoteable Floyd from previous semesters (I, II, and III), as I always do. The truth is that I’m a quote junky, and Floyd is ridiculously quotable. He can’t help himself. He teeters on a fencepost between incredibly wise and hilarious.

So without further adieu, I give you The Quotable Floyd. Spring, 2014.

From the Mozart…
Long notes should not be crescendoed. I know for a long time that was Choral Gospel, but don’t do it.

I like when Mozart is irritating and brilliant at the same time.

We won’t go allegro con spirito; we’ll go allegro breathe-a-lot-o.

It’s very important that it be unmushed.

When you get to the second note, just shake a little.

That’s a G! Good for you!

In the orchestra, you are the trombones!

Breathe in exact tempo.

Choral music is a constant stream of cues.

If you don’t do it well, it’ll sound like you did it well.

It’s almost as if Mozart said, “What are the notes we can leave out? Give them to the Altos!”

Altos, that’s not a melody; that’s an accompaniment.

We are the choir that sings “Ni.”

Keep it bouncy.

Try it and see if it fits.

The third pasus has a little Barbershop in it!

Those are rhythmic eruptions.

Only sing a normal sound.

It’s a G-sharp, but it’s spelled with an A-flat.

This time, make different mistakes.

From the Faure…
That “L” was better. We lost a couple of pitches along the way, but the “L” was better.

I don’t want that word in the room. [I think the word was "in," which, of course, is not pronounced the same in English as in Latin.]

You’ve got the note–it’s right in your voice.

Don’t grab it between the bars.

It’s got to be round without any edges to it.

Oh! Some of you noted the dynamics!

When you see an Amen, slow down.

If you like accidentals, you’re going to love this piece.

Don’t miss your “us.”

And suddenly, BOOM–there you are!

And out of nothing comes a sudden noise.

Try less hard in the fast department. Try less fast.

There are times in choir when you should not search for an answer.

If you don’t do it, it won’t do what it needs to do musically.

The piano is moving some other melody. Don’t go with it.

Let the dot step back for a moment.

We don’t want a big hole at that point.

Make sure your air is expelled.

Mark that in: Sing real purty there.

And, as an added bonus, I give you the final pre-concert quote:

If I make a booboo, make it right along with me; it’ll sound like it’s supposed to be.

Pax, friends!

Unavoidable Music: A Blog for Jean

If you read my post about Avoiding Music the other day, you may have felt sad for me or wanted to say something to encourage me without knowing what might do the trick. Jean (the excellent Alto you’ll hear in the Mozart quartet this weekend if you happen upon the Marquette Choral Society concerts–and please do; I promise we will not disappoint) greeted me at last night’s dress rehearsal with a hug. What a tender heart, to have responded so to my silly rambling blog! It meant everything to me, and it reminded me that those of you reading my blog commit to me and my trials every time you visit this site. It is only fair–for Jean’s sake–that I share the good stuff, also. She has earned it.

Jean…do remember that Bryan Adams line about his guitar? Played it til my fingers bleed? I’ve never actually known someone to play a guitar until his fingers bleed. Still, Thursday night left me pushing into those light Martins long after my voice gave out (which was somewhere around the F’s in my song binder). I couldn’t stop, despite the deep burn–and then numb–in my fingertips. I fell in love, Jean. I fell in love with my guitar. All over again.

Falling in Love

But something else happened, too.

I found comfort, I found hope in the place I least expected: In my own songs. Imagine, the songs that were birthed out of my own crazy life situations–situations that I sometimes doubted I’d ever survive–became the unavoidable music of my life once again. The hopes, the fears, the prayers; the stories, the jokes, the ridiculousness; the quips and proverbs, the poems and prose, the absolutely unavoidable music of who I am. And the more I played, the more I sang–the more I wanted to play and sing; the more I needed to play and sing; the more I was driven to play and sing.

It was like reuniting with a friend you haven’t seen in years. Without any effort, you are thrust into memories and common ground enough to disregard any awkwardness. It was like another part of myself was reminding me who I am. I was barefooted, Jean–no shoes, no socks, nothing to keep me from feeling the grit and grain of the world beneath my feet.

Barefooted

And now, with a heart full of music and a voice that is justifiably exhausted but eager, I approach concert weekend. My mind is flooded with longings and expectations that are going to meet their full satisfaction* in the next two days. There are entrances to await. There are cues to be seen. There are dynamics to be recalled. There are legato engines to be fired up and driven off a cliff. Are we ready? Am I ready?

Hellyeah.

Let’s do this, Jean. It’s unavoidable!

Pax,
Sar

*Full Satisfaction is not to be confused with Final Satisfaction. Remind me to come back to this and quote you some Jeremy Begbie. It’s about time to finalize my thoughts about his material. However, you, too, can have Full Satisfaction (with a tender hope for Final Satisfaction) by attending the MCS Concert this weekend. Mozart, Faure, and Floyd never disappoints–and Jean and I would love to see you there, right, Jean?

MCS Poster

Postscript: It’s okay to admit that you’re giddy-excited about the next edition of Floyd’s Quotes. I am, too. And there are some goodies this time around. :)

Avoiding Music

I’ve been avoiding music.

I know what you’re thinking, but it’s true–I have been avoiding music. Not all music, and not total avoidance, but definitely enough to break my heart last night.

Folks, I used to count the songs. I used to know each chord, each title, and exactly how many there were. Now? They are lost in a shuffle on my bookshelf. Binders, folders, notebooks, the graves of my once passionate heart. Each song is buried away for lack of…

What is it? Lack of passion? Lack of hope? Lack of desire? I don’t think it’s any of those things. Maybe lack of purpose.

As I listened to a local musician last night sing one of his own songs, I felt that gentle weight of God’s Spirit upon my heart, like a cat who sleeps on my chest each night. And it broke me. It broke me into a universe of indistinguishable pieces that all longed for the same thing: To sing.

Not for an audience.
Not for a career.
Not for a position in a church.

Just to sing. Just to lift my voice.

To remember my life verse, and to live it with full abandon:

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

More than a favorite verse, this verse is the song my mother sang over me when she carried me for nine months. She would prop that beautiful 12-string against her round belly and sing it softly, the duet of alto and Cortez resonating there in that secret place where God was creating me–not only my physical form, but my spirit, my soul, that part of me that longs for eternity and my Savior.
Cortez
And now, I avoid the songs and the prayers that would return me to that longing. I have been content to let others sing, to leave my songs in their tombs.

I am content no longer.

Can Christ raise them to life again?

Can He give voice to the longing within my spirit?

Dash told me once to go through my music and play each song. I don’t remember why he advised me so, but I remember being thankful that he did; so that is where I’m headed this evening, friends–to sit on the living room floor, all alone, and at least attempt to work through every song I’ve ever written. Even the ones that hurt.

Maybe–just maybe–God can breathe life into these dry bones.

Relearning. Or, Duplets. Or, Watch Floyd, again.

As promised, here I am–back for a few moments, and ready to say something (though I’m still unsure what needs to be said) about Fall rehearsals and concerts.

I’ve said it before, and it won’t hurt you to hear it again: Joining the Choral Society is one of the (or maybe, simply, the) best decisions of my adult life. I would be hard-pressed to think of another choice I’ve made in the last decade that has resulted in so much fun, so much discovery, so much reconnecting with myself, so much simple soul-fulfillment, so many blessed relationships I didn’t know I was missing out on–friends new and old, heroes amazing and approachable. There is not even the tiniest speck of disappointment or regret in this area of my life. I am so blessed, so thrilled to be participating in the Choral Society.

This was my fourth concert season with the Choir–two spring concerts, two winter. One of the great things about the Choral Society is the winter concert. It is traditionally held at St. Peter’s Cathedral (where the acoustics give us a heavenly sound that even Floyd can’t summon of his own will), and serves as a sort of “ushering in” of the Christmas Season in our Walton-esque town. When Floyd turns to the audience during that concert and directs the community, not a soul dares keep silent. There, in the beauty and reverence of the Cathedral, I truly believe the townsfolk would follow Floyd anywhere.

But what of the Choir?

I’ve been mulling over this question since the concert, asking myself why we–why I–struggle so ferociously with following Floyd? I try, friends. I really try. But when I most need Floyd, I look down. At the music. It hit me again, like the lesson I didn’t learn last Spring. We were singing an incredible arrangement of Silent Night with an F-natural that the Altos had been fighting for all semester. And there, in the mess of this beautiful 6/8 carol, the Altos had a duplet.

Right?

Are you kidding me?

The Sopranos are singing a dotted quarter, for three.
The Tenors and Basses are singing a quarter and an eighth, for a one-two, three.
And the Altos get to divide those three beats into two?

I won’t insult your intelligence by trying to describe how lacking the Altos were at that moment when we first realized it was a duplet (I think most of us were content to ignore that little “2” above the notes and just sing it like a quarter/eighth with the guys). I’m sure there were a few who had it right–there always are; but I’m honest enough to tell you right here, on the wide open interwebs, that I wasn’t one of them.

In fact, I’m still not.

We went over and over and over it in rehearsal. And finally, we breathed a collective, Altoic sigh of relief when Floyd said, “I’ll point, like this, when you need to move to the second note of the duplet.” And he did. He pointed. A good, sturdy, unmistakable point. Right at any Alto who had the sense to look up.

And if you know me, if you know what a slow learner I am, or how I think I’ve learned some lesson and then have to go through the process several times more before I actually learn anything, you know that I didn’t have the sense to look up. There I was, at the Friday night dress rehearsal, still trying to count it perfectly all on my own.

I’m a bit proud that way. If Floyd can do it, if Brubeck can do it, surely Sarah can do it. Right? (And for those of us counting it right now in our heads, I just want to remind you [and me] that counting it alone is an entirely different pursuit than counting it in context of a choir, and an entire section which is made up of people trying to count it the same.)

So why is it? Why am I so slow to accept that I need Floyd’s direction, when there in the audience sit a community of friends and family who would take any cue Floyd offered without hesitation? Why does my pride, my ego always step in and blind me to my need (and desire) to follow Floyd? It baffles me! I baffle me!

This, friends, is the exact lesson I thought I learned last Spring. Remember? How insightful I thought I was when I told you all to “Watch Floyd“! And here I am, still struggling to watch him when I most need direction.

I would be lying if I told you that this is no reflection of my spiritual life. It strikes me hard, yet again: I look to Christ, and I trust Him to lead me, until things challenge me. Then, somehow, my self-preservation kicks into high-gear and I try desperately to come out on top on my own. And isn’t that entirely counteractive to the Gospel message?–that in and of ourselves, we can never accomplish what we need or desire (salvation)? Isn’t that entirely why Jesus became a man, gave himself to be born of a young woman in a barn, surrounded by animals?

As you approach this holiday, may your eyes be drawn once more to Christ, who never fails to cue us, to guide us, and to lead us in righteousness. May your trust be in Him, fully, when your duplets confound your rhythm.

Pax Christi,
and Merry Christmas!

Sar