Saturday, January 12, 2008

Finding Voices

On Tuesday night in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton claimed to have finally found her own voice. I guess it's going around.

* * * * * * * * * *

Project Renaissance is underway. The score for Bach's St. Matthew Passion has arrived and I've begun learning the aria "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein." Last week I spoke to the music director at church and said I wanted to offer it around Easter time, and he said "Great."

I picked the perfect piece, really. It sits beautifully for me and more than anything requires breath control and alignment; it's not a "big" sing and doesn't go higher than an E-flat, so it is totally non-threatening and practicing it is like physical therapy for the voice. It's also therapy for my mind; concentrating this hard, listening and feeling carefully, analyzing and experimenting, I swear it's causing a part of my brain to light up that's been dormant for five years. It feels really good. And it's nice to hear the old voice again.

Recently, though, I spent some time thinking about why I'm doing this. Part of what was so hard for me about the collapse of my career is that -- even to me, who was suffering from it -- acid reflux sounded like no big deal. Everyone has that. Have a TUMS, you know? Pop a Nexium already. And although no one ever said as much, I had an overpowering conviction that the general assumption was this was an excuse I was making for why my career didn't go anywhere; too deluded about my own talent and unable to admit that I just wasn't that good, I had invented some story about a minor health disorder to cover up my mediocrity.

I've been complicit in that fable, too; for the last few years, I've taken to explaining to family and friends that well, it was nice, it was a good ride and I loved every minute of it, but it was time to put that aside and get a real job. And that, my friends, is what's called A FUCKING LIE.

So, yes, a big part of it is that I have something to prove. It happens nearly every week in church; the person who decides to sit in front of me turns around at the end of the service to compliment my sotto voce crooning during the hymns and say, "You have such a beautiful voice, you should be in the choir!" And while that's nice, I have to confess that behind my polite smile I'm thinking, "You have no idea."

Then I began to worry -- and rightly -- that this was perhaps not the best motivation or spirit in which to present a piece at a church service, and that if I wanted the world to sit up and take notice of how great I am, I should probably consider a different venue. Still, I felt called, as one might say, to offer this piece in this place in this year.

What attracted me to this aria was its beauty; I loved it the first time I heard it. There is something positively plangent about it. Each gentle dissonance tugs at my heart. If one were to think of the Passion as a dramatic work, this is the piece that is sung while Jesus' body is brought down from the cross. Ironically, as I begin to study it, I'm noticing that the text directly addresses the conflict I feel between wanting to prove myself and wanting to humbly offer something for the church, and so it has become a personal prayer in its own right about shaping the rightness of my intentions.

Make yourself, my heart, pure;
I want to bury Jesus myself,
that He should forever more
have sweet rest in me.
World, get out; let Jesus in.


Pentimento said...

May you sing with that same pure heart, Andy. So glad you're back.

kr said...

What could possibly engage you (you personally) more strongly than to offer your full voice--what is more likely to move your toward your ultimate goal (God) more quickly? What great gift do you have that you would most honor God by giving to Him, by glorifying Him with?

I think this is a beautiful thing.

As someone who had her own a wealth of talents, I understand the pride issues you are facing as well. You have stepped forward in faith ... God will meet you :).

Gino said...

the great artists and writers who wrote and sang scores for the faith were all proud of their abilities.

i think that if we give God the best of our talents, regardless of what public acclaim we recieve, he gives us the grace to accept it in humility.

you have a lot to give, and in return a lot to recieve.
i wish you well.

Luke said...

It sounds like your voice is just getting warmed up! Look out, Jesus! ;)

But seriously, it makes me really happy that you've decided to sing again.