Last night the fear that comes with vulnerability and the opportunity for connection came smack up against each other.
As part of my efforts to bring joy back into my life, I have started singing again in a band. A duo this time. And last night we performed some of our new songs in front of an audience. Dressed in costume.
I get nervous when we play gigs. Which is okay. I’m nervous because I care. Because it matters to me. It matters to put on a good show. To do justice to the music. To be solid for my fellow musician in the band.
Nervous is different from fear. Nervous can take your breath away but fear takes your voice away.
And singing is one of the most vulnerable things that I do. The most exposed. Emotionally risky. But one of the things that allows for the deepest connections and the most body-filling joy of breath and sound and sharing.
Peter Sellars (the theatre producer, not the comedic actor) said,
Vocal music is an attempt to take the whole human being and project it into space. It is the ultimate gesture of getting out of yourself. You take a part of you that is most private, most personal, most inward, and you hurl it out into space—you project it as far as you can. That gesture of opening this whole region of the body results in an enormous spiritual release, and is felt by other people with tremendous impact.
So I was nervous last night. Not unusual. I was dressed up, too, which I always find stressful. Also not unusual. But, I was also feeling hugely vulnerable about one particular song. It is a slow song which relies a lot on the vocals. It’s high in my range of singing which requires a steady reservoir of breath. The lyrics are beautiful and emotionally evocative and were written and gifted to the band by a dear friend. And, I was singing into a mic in a small room where every note seemed louder and bigger than usual.
I sang the first line of the lyrics and it comes out as wobbly and insecure as I feel. And I am immediately thrown back into a childhood memory. Except that the emotional state feels exactly the same; as though no time at all had passed.
I used to sing in church when I was little. My Mom and I were usually the only ones in my family who regularly attended services. But, one Sunday I was scheduled to sing a solo and my older sister and her boyfriend came to hear me sing. This was a big deal. Well, it was a big deal to me.
It must have been the first time I got nervous singing. And I got really nervous. My heart was pounding so hard that it shook my whole chest. And my throat. And my voice. My singing was wobbly and shaky and I remember being completely confused about this new experience. But I knew it wasn’t good. And I didn’t know how to make it stop.
No one talked to me about it afterwards. But I knew it was bad because no one complimented my singing like they usually did. It was clear to me that people were disappointed. And because no one said anything I never got to ask “what happened?”, “is that normal?”, “how do I stop it next time?”. And no one ever said “it’s okay, it wasn’t perfect but that’s okay, you did your best and we love you”. Instead, what I learned was that if it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t okay. That if I wasn’t perfect, that I wasn’t okay.
So there I stood last night, feeling nervous and vulnerable yes, but it was that emotional flashback, that flashnow, that took away my breath and voice and left me with a first line that was as shaky and insecure as that little girl who didn’t understand what had happened. Who only understood that she wasn’t good enough.
And this is where the gift comes in. I am not that little girl anymore but I have the chance to change her story. My story. Because the opportunity in being vulnerable is to allow myself to be seen. With authenticity and honesty. With my very human imperfections. To be connected. With others and with myself. To release part of my spirit and let it be seen and heard. To know that I am enough.
And with that in mind, I found my breath and my courage and a little more of my voice and the second line came out a little stronger. And the third a little stronger after that. It may not have been perfect – whatever that is! – but it connected. And there was joy in that.
And, I think, a gift of healing for that little girl.