Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Discomfort of Learning Something New

If you'd have told me a year ago that I'd be singing in a choir, and contemplating taking private voice lessons, I'd have said you were crazy.

But here I am, doing just those things.  It happened in such a round-about way, my stumbling onto the Healdsburg Community Chorus and deciding to give it a try.  It started as a seed of enthusiasm planted after watching "The Choir" on BBC America (have I raved enough about that show?!), and it really took root as an idea for something for my husband and me to do together -- he's got a lovely voice and we're in that awkward stage of parenting teens where it'd be good for us to get out of the house together.  But he wasn't enthusiastic about the idea of group singing, and to my surprise I realized that I WAS.  Hey, I liked glee club in 7th grade -- how different could it be?

So every Monday night after dinner I've trotted off to the junior high band room, to sing with fellow Healdsburg residents.  I love that it's a true community choir-- members include a guy from my local grocery store, a downtown gift store owner, the pastry chef at a local bakery, a retired police officer... lots of folks I've seen around town over the years and now run into all the time.  I love that we're singing holiday songs in preparation for holiday concerts in December.  I love practicing my soprano part, and then showing up to have everyone put their parts together to make a totally new sound. 

But I keep noticing that there are things that make me distinctly uncomfortable.  I'm not a "performing" person -- I feel most comfortable in the back of a room, or on the sidelines in a group of people.  (Luckily because I'm tall, I was placed in the back row of the choir and feel quite comfy there.)  A choir is a good fit for me in that respect -- I want my voice to blend in with the crowd's.  But learning HOW that happens is turning out to be more complex than I thought.

It's learning about how to sing properly, I guess.  How to breathe.  How to control your breathing so you can sing a line and breathe in the right places.  How to place the sound in your body to make the singing easy, rather than a strain.  How to relax your jaw and let your vocal chords reach the high notes.  How to get the right tone.  How to listen to your fellow singers so you are blending your voice appropriately.

I've never done any of this before.  (I guess 7th grade glee club was about wrangling a bunch of pre-teen kids and trying to get them all singing on key so they didn't giggle and blush when they sang about Abraham's bosom.)  Sometimes I come out of the choir feeling like my voice felt good, it flowed, I liked the sounds I made.  Other times I come out feeling frustrated, as if I squeaked my way through and didn't know why I couldn't get that flow feeling going.  Which explains the voice lessons -- a few sessions with the chorus director, really, to just help me make sure I'm doing the right things and not making it harder on myself.

It's been a long time since I was confronted with trying to learn something so different from what I ordinarily do.  This is out of my comfort zones in so many ways, but I know it's a good stretch for me.  I keep telling myself that these feelings of awkwardness and confusion are good things.  And when Miss C asks me how it went when I come home from a choir practice, I tell her the truth:  sometimes it's really fun. Sometimes it feels hard and confusing and I feel like I didn't do as well as I would like.  But I'm proud of myself for trying something new and sticking with it even though parts of it feel uncomfortable.  At dinner the other night, she said "I'm proud of you too, Mom.  I never thought my mom would be a singer!"

So, I'm modeling good things, and I'm learning new things, and I'm reminding myself that occasional discomfort is a sign of growth.

1 comment:

Diana said...

Thanks so much for your thoughtful post. You are so right--learning new things can be uncomfortable, but it helps us grow and change and become better. Your mention of the community choir reminded me of an old TV movie with Michael Learned called A Christmas Without Snow. If you haven't seen it yet, I bet you'd enjoy it.