My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Bottling up a small but significant musical moment

It was a scene that only lasted 20 minutes but it was enough to keep me going with a smile on my face the rest of the day.

It started with my computer at work not letting me log into the network which led to me calling the computer helpline. Push 1 for a menu of options, push 4 for all other problems, talk to a help desk worker who then says that someone will stop by "sometime" during the day to try and fix my problem. Ugh.

Not my favorite way to start my day.

Fast forward an hour.

I was waiting for a rehearsal to start when the tech person knocked on my door. At the same time the student for whom I was waiting showed up to rehearse with me. I decided the computer person was going to have to deal with being serenaded while coming to the aid of my sick computer. The student was a young singer who had come to run through her songs in preparation for an upcoming performance. Singing an interesting set, Samuel Barber's "Church Bell at Night" and "Promiscuity," two very short, difficult little numbers, I was curious to see how the tech worker was going to respond. I have to admit she surprised me after the first song by stopping what she was doing and saying, "You have an incredible voice!" The student looked a bit surprised as well but we proceeded with our rehearsal. It didn't take long for my computer to be back up and running yet I noticed that the tech person wasn't budging from the studio. Instead she was doing some of her own work in the corner of the room, listening all the while and chiming in now and then with encouraging remarks about how much she was enjoying listening. When she finally did leave she did so with a word of thanks and more praise for this young woman's singing.

Thanks to a good case of nerves pre-performance, I wasn't sure if the singer had registered what had just happened with that stranger in the room. When we finished rehearsing she remarked, "Well, I guess it will be ok next Tuesday." I couldn't let her leave with just that one thought so in my typical fashion I embraced the moment as a teacheable one. I told her that even though she may not have felt like her performance was what she wanted she had captured the attention of a stranger in the course of one song that lasted only about 30 seconds. And in the next few minutes she had managed to keep her there because of what she had to offer through the music. She had created, for this stranger, an oasis of musical and expressive beauty. She had stopped time for someone that had a job to do. She had tapped into the power of music and had unknowingly shared a bit of herself through this incredible medium.

When we're in school, studying to be the best we can be at our instrument, it can be so easy to lose sight of the magic of music and of the power we wield as musicians. We expect to hear criticism and advice, we wait for the grades to come in to tell us whether or not we are good musicians. In some ways there's nothing wrong with that - it pushes us to keep working, it teaches us that we are never done learning and that we are always beginners no matter where we are in our journey. But at the same time I think it's important to be aware of those rare musical moments that remind us of what we can do with our music no matter what level we are at. It's important to acknowledge that performing means more than impressing others or receiving the pat on the back we all long for - it means touching others through the sharing of ourselves through music.

There's a time and a place for work and there's a time and a place for reaping the harvest of that work. When we are fortunate to find ourselves in a magical musical moment, when life is about more than just ourselves, it's important to reach for the nearest empty bottle and to bottle it all up to remind ourselves of the value of what we do in the practice room and on the stage.

Here's hoping the young singer I was working with has started her own collection. Sing on!


  1. I like this! Sometimes we can be our own worst critics - we know when we aren't hitting every note or phrase just right, but usually the audience has no idea. If we are performing with heart and soul, the magic can shine through. That's what it's all about, after all :)

    1. Exactly, Mark! The more young musicians realize how rarely the audience actually knows when a mistake is made, the more they will feel free to perform without thinking that perfection is part of the picture.

      Thanks for reading!