Monday, February 20, 2006

The pitch is back

I used to have a great voice. Not the greatest in the world. No one was going to confuse me with Beverly Sills or Maria Callas or anything, but great none the less. People assured me I could go professional with some small opera company or another and make a living with my voice.

I just never wanted to, never had the passion. I would sing because I enjoyed the sound of my own voice. Not in the professional chorales, I never did get a taste for that; the pro thing was too proud, too much ego and competition and it turned me off. Taking pride in my voice seemed silly. It would have been like taking personal credit for Emmylou Harris' voice just because I bought a copy of her CD. My voice was something I owned, not something I earned, and y'all, when it came to developing friendships with the other singers, it was more heartache than it was worth.

But in Canterbury, my campus ministry, things were different. There was no competition. We sang simple songs, not arias, and we would make up the harmonies as we went along; not to prove our cleverness but because they sounded beautiful. I loved hearing my voice, a snow queen soprano cutting through the handsome baritone of the rest of the group. I would have loved it if it had belonged to someone else. It really made no difference to me.

Then, overnight, I stopped singing, just completely clammed up. Things had gotten bad in Canterbury and the ugliness of competition and pride had seeped in without anyone noticing. Paradise was lost, the joy, the sense of community were gone and I couldn't bring myself to sing any more than I could bring myself to wear horizontal stripes or drown a kitten, and for--gosh, almost seven years -- I hadn't uttered a peep. Until now.

For the past several months I've been attending a 5:00 p.m. Celtic service at Saint David's and recently I've begun to sing. The songs are simple, more traditional than at Canterbury, but beautiful and with a Gaelic bent that suits my voice (I never did like all that vibrato and coloratura and things, seemed like gilding the hell out of the lily to me). For once I'm enjoying singing. Not because I know I'm good; seven years of not singing has put quite a limit on my range and I'm no longer completely confident in my tone or pitch; but because I feel a sense of community, of purity and honesty and I don't feel that I'll be judged by my voice, for better or worse. It's just a simple, honest communal joy at being part of the Body and Blood, and if that isn't worth singing about, I don't know what is...and there's not a gilded lily in sight.

This post was brought to you by a steaming cup of hot water with lemon in it.


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