On Sunday, I sang at our local church where I volunteer as a soprano. I love singing there because of the beautiful and often challenging music. The five of us in the choir loft that morning sang “Forty Days and Forty Nights” and three other English-language Lenten hymns in four-part harmony. During Communion, we sang chant with psalm verses in Latin.
By the end of Mass, I felt filled with breath, music, and gratitude. We stopped in the parish hall for a light breakfast, where a few older women in the parish chastised us: “good voices, but the Latin’s got to go.” Was this what I’d signed up for? Their remarks stung and I felt unappreciated for what I had offered, until I remembered that a gift benefits the giver, no matter the reaction of the recipient. Then I was freed of an expectation of a wholly positive response.
Sometimes as a musician, whether it’s singing or playing the organ, I long for appreciation. In a musical performance, I am offering a gift to the listeners, and hope it will be well received. However, its value is determined by creativity and self-expression, rather than the reaction of the listeners.
I will probably continue to volunteer my singing, whether the reception be effusive, lukewarm, or nonexistent. It’s something in which I have some measure of talent. I’m not a bad singer–sometimes I even think I’m pretty good. You won’t be hearing me at the Met anytime soon, but I sing better than I could two years ago, before taking lessons. (I had thought I was an alto until my voice teacher proved otherwise, and now I can sing a high A-flat, like in “Missa Choralis” by the little-known Refice that we’ll sing tonight.)
I sing primarily for two reasons, which are intimately linked: self-expression, and the joy of giving. The pleasure a recipient takes in a gift has value, but it doesn’t determine the value of a gift.
On Sunday night, I was playing Scrabble with my husband’s cousins, who were in town for a few days. It was a close game. My first play was “ZAG” with a triple-letter score on the “Z,” for 35 points. I had an early lead, but none of my subsequent plays lived up to the glory of the first.
As we neared the end, all four of us had around 100 points, give or take. We all had strange combinations of letters in our remaining titles. I had three E’s and two O’s. My cousin-in-law had a J but nowhere to play it, as I discovered later. He was considering skipping his turn because he felt that anything he could play would be too low-scoring. I suggested that scoring any amount of points would be a good thing.
Not every play will be 35 points, not every musical offering will be loved by everyone, and not every blog post will go viral. It’s okay to risk failing, rather than become paralyzed and prevent future successes, as well as failures. Success comes in different forms at different times. As a former yoga teacher of mine, Molly, used to say, “No effort along the path is lost.”
I don’t know what my current or next project will teach me. If I think I know, it’s my ego talking. If I think I know what the results will be, it’s really my ego talking. I don’t have to let fear of not being perfect–or not being appreciated by everyone at all times–stand in the way of doing a good-enough job.
I finished the Scrabble game with all three E’s still on my rack. My cousin-in-law finished with his “J” unplayed. And it was OK. It was good.