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.
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.