This week’s exercise from #MyBlogSchool talked about stepping out of our comfort zone and so I thought I’d write about my weekend singing with the Community Music group at Fires of Justice. Not that singing is out of my comfort zone — far from it. But showing up for an open rehearsal when I wasn’t guaranteed to know anyone else there – that was.
I am naturally drawn to the idea of community music because I find so much of my community through music. My oldest friends are from my high school orchestra days; my newest from the strong blues community here in town. In between, of course, I find community in other ways, through families of people with Down syndrome, or through fellow publishing professionals or people I’ve connected to through books and reading. Community music says that anyone can make music. No sight reading skills needed, no formal training. Open your mouth and sing or grab a drum and beat. Shake an egg and stomp your feet. Look, you’re a community musician. Great examples of this kind of approach can be found at in The Buddy Choir and in Choir on the Run, both connected to the great people at Our Studio.
Interesting, then, that the majority of the people I sang with on the weekend were Laurier music students, most of them skilled in the areas you don’t have to be to participate. Others came from Inshallah, the choir I sing with, from the choir of the church that hosted, and from the greater community (although I’d wager those numbers were few). The group was welcoming, and no questions were asked about skill levels. Sing in the group you’re comfortable with; read if you can, and listen and learn by ear if you can’t. Sing harmony if you hear one and melody at any time. We were fortunate to be backing up Abraham Jam, a group of three musicians who each identify from a different faith tradition and work the ideas of diversity, harmony and peace into their songs and performance. We sang IN community, and on Sunday night FOR community, asking only a free will offering for the ongoing social justice work of Sing Fires of Justice.
How was I out of my element? As a singer I’ve traditionally felt under-trained in comparison to my instrumental instruction. Years of violin, recorder, piano and trombone instruction left me feeling that this kind of instruction was necessary to be considered an expert or a professional. I’ve sung in choirs since I was a child, but I’ve never taken a vocal lesson. David LaMotte, one third of Abraham Jam, welcomed us all as professionals, using the term as “that which you profess”; ie, I am a singer. The word amateur, often used as a slur, actually comes from “that which you love.” He encouraged us to think less in terms of tying the word “professional” to the idea of making money and more toward the idea of what we are doing as an integral part of ourselves. I was an amateur amid many who make music as study or as their livelihood. I felt it in the beginning, but I put my game face on and found that I was up to the task and that I had skills I could share with others.
That might be the lesson, actually. You can feel under qualified about the THING you want to do, but life is rarely about one thing at a time. You will find that you have something to offer the experience just as it has something to offer you.