the song remains

I am at a sort-of crossroads now.

There was one thing I always wanted to do as a child – I wanted to sing. Of course, the voice I hear in my head is infinitely more beautiful than what I produce, but that doesn’t stop me from doing what I love… because I don’t do it for myself alone.

I don’t sing because it aligns me to a group of people I want to be with, although my listening choices might. And I most certainly don’t do it because I think I’m spectacularly good.

I sing because I see creation unfold as the melodies swirl forth.
I sing because my world take shape as the words I utter mould it’s existence.
I sing because it’s the only way of fully expressing my heart’s song.
I sing because I was first created with a song.

Over the past year, I found myself singing less, and as my silent moments ticked away and my song grew colder… I knew I had to return to it soon. But the lack of time negated both my desire and will. Which was why I’d been looking forward to doing it again, come July. However, three weeks ago, I was asked if I could put that desire on the back-burner again, to focus on my upcoming projects.

I couldn’t find it in myself to answer that request. Because I’m not sure how much longer I can last if I live through another’s song. I need to sing again. Sure, I can rebel against the request and do it anyway… but that means being unable to give my all to the craft.

Would I do it if it was sub-standard?

As an experiment, I started singing in the bedroom, in the bathroom, in the cab, along walkways and corridors, in the office, at the grocery store, in a cafe… and found such liberation in doing that simple deed. But I missed being with a group and singing with them. There’s something special when you sing in unity with others. It’s as if the differences in personalities, beliefs and character fade away. You are just one voice.

I don’t know if I can walk away from it again.

And if I do (because there’s no other way), I’m not sure how I’ll handle it.

*

When you reach the little house, the place your journey started, you will recognize it, although it will seem much smaller than you remember. Walk up the path, and through the garden gate you never saw before but once.

And then go home.
Or make a home.
And rest.

– Neil Gaiman

What’s written on my heart is plain to understand. I guess this is one time I’ll need to trust that the Author is the only One who can conclude this story. And as I’m faithful to what’s in my hands, the Author will be faithful to make what’s in my heart come to pass.

In the meantime, I’ll learn to call this new place home.

And rest.

*

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.

– Maya Angelou

Advertisements

dreaming it real

A boy in a wheelchair dreams of dancing.

It’s the biggest dream he has that fills him up with hope.

‘There’s all this new research that they’re doing and I think if I tried them all, one of them is bound to work for me,’ he smiles at his school counselor.

‘I read your file and… you know you are severely crippled,’ she answers him, holding sheets of medical research in her hands. ‘These studies take ten years or more before they are even tested on humans…’

And as the words of his counselor sinks into his heart, he bows his head and leaves the room. He lets go of his dream. Someone finally woke him up to reality.

‘It’s not going to happen, but I’m really okay,’ he says to his girlfriend. ‘I’ll make new dreams. I’ll dream of things that are possible.’

Yes, I was watching episode #19 of Glee’s first season and in my heart, applauded the scriptwriters for handling the delicate, nearly intangible topic of hope and reality, with dignity and grace. Year after year, thousands of hopeful wannabees put themselves out in American Idol auditions… and I am always amazed at how many people live in a bubble where all things are possible.

‘My momma says I’m a great singer so f%#k you Simon Cowell!’ I hear that statement repeated time and again on the show.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to handle, when auditioning singers in the past, was telling them that they didn’t have the natural foundations for what makes a good singer. Here I am, on one hand, telling people to build visions and dreams, while the flipside to what I do is bringing reality into what simply cannot be. I do my best to help them seek out their natural giftings and build on what’s already in them.

Dreams and reality – if there ever was a better conundrum, I haven’t found it.

‘Years ago, I couldn’t carry a tune,’ SoftSpeaker once said to me. ‘I know you won’t believe it but I never sang in public, and when I did, people told me I wasn’t cut out to be a singer. But it was all I dreamed of doing.’

She has since recorded albums and her voice is heard on at least two internationally marketed albums. She has performed in front of thousands and yet, here is a girl who says she couldn’t sing. What would have happened then, if she allowed someone else’s opinion change her course?

Can a dream be so powerful it changes the very elements of a person’s physical makeup, taking the impossible into the realm of possibility? Would that have worked for the boy in the wheelchair?

*

The first song I ever sang for my vocal teacher (more than ten years ago) was Dream A Little Dream (funny… I only just saw the irony of my selection) and because she was a jazz singer, she cut me off. I think I hurt her ears and caused embarrassment to her favourite genre of music.

Back then, I actually harboured dreams of performing on stage. My first vocal teacher (the temperamental witch!) was unyielding in her attack on my dreams and truthfully, I thank her for that because in injecting such mockery at my juvenile vocal attempts, she steered my dreaming into the right direction.

Today, I know that I’m not cut out to be a singer with albums under her belt. My ideals are lowered and I just want to sing well enough to hold a song without the cringe factor, while I do what’s necessary on stage. I have since sung in choir recordings, taught choir singers, done backing vocals, performed in musicals and my forte (if any) would be funny, dramatic and hilarious pieces. Yes, my singing is more a support role to what I do better – I am a communicator.

Do I still dream? Hell yes.

But I’ve also learnt the difference between fantasies and actual dreams. My definitions of both categories are based on a healthy combination of experience, brutally honest people, hope… and a sprinkling of all-things-are-possibility.

I fantasize about writing a book (while I battle deadlines for short articles), running a restaurant (I don’t even cook regularly though I must say, I eat well) and being in the top 20 fastest runners of a marathon (when I can’t even finish running 10k).

And my dreams? Ultimately, I just want to be happy and fulfilled every single moment of my day.

But that might just be made up of many tiny little fantasies… and that’s why it’s important to keep it all alive. With the power of dreaming and the Dream Maker’s ability, it might all come true.

Am I contradicting myself in this entire post? Yes. Because that’s precisely what dreams do.

They contradict reality and offer the solace that one day, what we want will happen, what we want changed will finally transform and what we desire most of all is really, already in our hands.

I say, dream on.

Now please excuse me while I go back to my fantasies.

inside/outside & the world in between

Inside: I looked at myself in the video monitor with horror.
Outside: I smiled and sang as planned.

There was a tuft of hair sticking out from the side of my head. It looked like an antenna, or a misplaced hairy ear. The video team had obviously been trying to signal to me since the beginning of the song to do something with the hair! They avoided taking frontal images while I angled my head and casually brushed the damning antenna down but to no avail. It had an agenda today. It wanted to be part of the performance.

I finally resorted to tilting my head back to hide the hairy intruder for the next 20 minutes. I walked off stage with a stiff neck and had a good laugh with the team. What a start to my day.

*

Inside: I struggled with the growing sense of doom and the taste of failure.
Outside: I smiled and thanked the person for the feedback.

Just mere minutes before I had to sing again, one of the trainers came up to me with advice on what to change in my technique. It was stuff that I’d heard before and honestly, it’s one of the weak points in my vocals. There was no time to practice anything new. I stood on the side of the stage, waiting for my turn to walk out and had a choice: take the advice, be bold and sing… or get angry. I decided to sing my heart out.

And enjoyed some of the most precious moments, knowing that the success or failure of the session didn’t rest on me. It rested on the Dream Maker, who walked out with me, stood by my side and held my hand.

*

Inside: I watched their mouths, their eyes, their hands without understanding.
Outside: I nodded at the appropriate moments and smiled.

They were people I was planning on interviewing for a video shoot this coming week, except… they don’t speak English. They had wonderful stories to tell, stories that need to be captured but how, how in the world am I going to do this? I asked for a translator and thankfully, she stepped in to help us converse more freely and has even promised to be there for the shoot. I sighed with relief.

*

Inside: I let loose.
Outside: I let loose.

In the final song for the day, the audience was gone, the auditorium slowly emptying out but for the few stragglers who stayed behind to watch. There was nothing to lose and everything to gain. This was my moment with Him, exclusively. I looked up, closed my eyes and sang the words as though I was tasting them on my lips for the first time. When it was all over, I walked to the monitor room, handed in my wireless transmitter, microphone and smiled at the sound engineer.

The Music Director looked at me and mouthed, ‘Wonderful.’
The Bassist nodded at me, ‘Good.’
A woman came up to me and asked if she could hug me.

‘When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.

We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.’

– John Lennon

In my moment of vulnerability, I revealed who I truly was – mistakes and weaknesses – and found myself… accepted and loved.

in all my fears…

Can I be thoroughly honest here?

You won’t judge my frailty or vulnerability will you?

Will it change the way you see me?

Do I become a lesser person, if you know what I fear?

*

I was called in for a quick rehearsal with the girls, for a song that we need to perform two weeks later. I have not spent any time practicing nor developing my vocals this whole year, so I know that when it comes to singing, I am severely lacking. Which is one of the reasons why I was initially reluctant. True enough, whole solo sections were handed out to the other singers and I was given what I guess I do best, the harmony lines. The supporting act.

Add to that the fact that I’ll be leading the worship session that day, I am again, faced with this huge weakness that I have: in this team of singers… I can’t sing as well as them.

I can hold a melody line, and yes, they say that I am good at rhythm, but darn it, I can’t sing as well as they all do. So why am I here?

‘I wish I had what you have,’ Softspeaker said to me.

‘Wha… What in the world are you talking about?’ I asked her.

‘Your groove, your infectious ability to lead people to sing along with you, I wish I had that. Can you help me?’ She smiled.

This is the girl I first heard singing when I came to church more than ten years ago. She was the one I saw leading people… whose voice could reach the hardest of hearts and melt them with her song. When I first began singing in the team, I did my best to imitate her, to sing like her, to blend with her. And she was asking me for help?

‘Babe, I wish I could sing like you…’ I trailed off.

‘Funny huh…’ she mused. ‘We fail to recognize our place in the team. We forget that each of us brings something special, something that no one else can replace. And we long for what others have, ignoring what we have. We fail to realise that we’re contributors too.’

Yes. She was right. In my pity-party, I was overwhelmed by my lack and couldn’t see beyond myself to the truth that it didn’t matter how little I think I have, I still have something precious that I can give. This thought plainly boggles my mind because when I listen back to my recordings, all I can do is cringe.

‘Why are we so pathetically small-minded?’ I wondered as I walked out of rehearsals. ‘Why do I look at myself when really, it’s not about me?’ I was slightly irritated with my pride.

Alone, I sighed. ‘Here you go, Lord. It’s little, it’s all I have.’

And I could almost here the gentlest of whispers in my ears saying, ‘Thank you. It’s all I need.’

I am humbled.

*

Bob Dylan (featured above) was never known to have a good singing voice. If anything, they described his nasal tones and sandpaper voice as almost grating. Still, he won millions of fans with his passion and lyrical song-writing. His recent album showed more of his lack in vocal prowess (due to age, I figure) but he keeps at what he’s doing, and he’s recognized for that.

‘Have you ever written a song?’ Smiley asked me.

Yes, I have done that. One actually was recorded and funnily, I tried to hide that fact from him.

‘Why? Why won’t you tell me where it’s been recorded?’ he asked.

Honestly? Oh, it’s going to hurt to be this truthful but it’s because it came from the heart. And if someone judges the song… I feel almost as if they are judging… me – in my most vulnerable of moments.

I thought about it though, on my way home. The fear of not being accepted. The fear of my weaknesses on display for the world. The fear of being… not good enough.

‘If it’s not good enough for you, will you give it to me?’ I heard the Dream Maker ask. ‘Because to Me, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard. You are the most beautiful thing to me.’

And I crumbled.

The song doesn’t belong to me. It never did. It’s a mere tool of passion, that hopefully, will continue to touch the random listener one night, in a deep, quiet moment.

The singing doesn’t belong to me. It never did. It’s a mere tool for Him to use, at any level.

Am I willing to lose control of these elements – whether they fail or succeed – and to release them wholly into His hands?

‘I do.’

I smile as He takes my hand.

‘Dear god, I do.’