Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beyond the striving, a gift

Back when I lived on Orcas Island, I began singing with a wonderful group called "Those Guys from Orcas." Those Guys started out as a barbershop quartet: they had sung together in Music Man and liked it so much they decided to keep going. When one of their tenors left town, they advertised for a new one on the bulletin board outside the Post Office, and on a whim I called them.

I'd grown up listening to my dad's barbershop groups, and I had memorized all the songs from Music Man as a child, but I'd never actually performed in a small group, so I was a little anxious about it. But they welcomed me with open arms and soon I was rehearsing weekly and performing in churches and nursing homes -- and I loved it. One of the hardest things about moving to Bainbridge was leaving Those Guys behind.

So I've been looking for an opportunity to sing ever since moving to the island: I sang in a women's compline choir for a while -- and loved it -- but I missed the liveliness of the guitar. I got involved in musical theater, but eventually every play comes to an end. I didn't want to do a church choir because I wasn't sure I wanted to commit all those Sundays, and the other groups on the island seemed... I don't know; stuffy? There seemed to be a rigidity, standards, striving for perfection -- all good things, when you're working toward a paid performance, and important for the quality of the music. But Those Guys was essentially a musical comedy group: our main purpose was to entertain, and have fun doing it, and I missed the looseness of that.

Yesterday morning I had coffee with a friend, and we were contemplating taking a road trip to see Avatar in 3D when she explained she couldn't do it that afternoon because she was singing at a local nursing home; would I like to join her? BINGO!

So I did, and I can't wait to do it again. It's not a group, per se -- just a motley collection of singers who come when they can. There are no rehearsals, and no new songs or interesting harmonies to work up. But that's fine: it turns out what I missed was just the chance to sing in a nursing home, experiment a bit with harmonies, and smile out to the patients. There's no striving in this beyond sharing and giving; no reaching for new heights of perfection. The only reward is to watch the folks who were sunk in their chairs at the beginning of the hour begin to straighten up, to tap their feet, to risk eye contact, and -- eventually -- to smile.

Striving and ambition are great; trying always to be better helps us grow and keeps humanity progressing. But sometimes it's wonderful to just relax into what is, and to enjoy it. What IS is that I have a reasonable voice -- not a great one -- and I love to sing. And now I get to do just that. What a wonderful present to start off the new year!


Maureen said...

How fun! I'll want to hear more about singing in the nursing home. I bet the folks there truly enjoy hearing your group.

Try to see the documentary Young@Heart if you haven't already. I saw the group perform live just before Christmas. They amazed me.

Singing with Those Guys must have been a blast.

When I was at Vassar, I was in the choir and because I sang second alto usually got put in with the tenors (their section was a bit thin during my time there). We did have rehearsals and all that; it was still fun, because we had a great director. Now I'm 35 years out and . . . reminiscing.


What a nice post/nice story. Glad you've found the group to just have some fun in every way and use your gift of singing. Sometimes the nicest things just "show" up:)