TCWC Concert and the Fight Against the Season

On Saturday, I sang 2 concerts with the TCWC; it was our usual “Illuminations” concert we do in lieu of a more traditional holiday concert. The music this time was STUNNING.

We opened with different settings of the words attributed to Chief Seattle (though not really said by him; thanks Snopes!):

This we know.
The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth.
This we know.
All things are connected like the blood that unites one family.
All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.
This we know.
We did not weave the web of life.
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
This we know.

We sang songs about the earth, about stars, about the moon, and about the rise of the sun. The words from one of them, “Cycle Four,” made me cry EVERY DAMN TIME I sang them:

The earth itself is a spaceship; the crew rides on the outside in everlasting orbit around the sun.
Seen from the moon, it is so tiny and fragile.
I wish leaders from every nation could see the world from here.
Those precious borders are invisible.
The brilliant globe is surrounded by blackness and turns serenely in the sunlight.
Viewing our planet from the moon, I cry.
The pristine blue and whiteness I see is an illusion.
Hiding beneath it I know there is an ever more senseless ugliness.

And we did the Randall Thompson version of “Choose Something Like A Star” whose words by Robert Frost are, I think, truly inspirational:

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud;
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says “I burn.”
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

I’m not going to link to this song, but I’m sure you can go find a version of it on YouTube if you wish, and I highly recommend it; it’s truly beautiful.

(Also, it goes HIGH. I mean, I’m a high first soprano and it can be exhausting after a while. This whole concert was that way, though. My poor vocal cords were DONE on Saturday night. Anyway.)

The thing about music at this time of year is that, while I am tired tired TIRED of Christmas carols, pretty much all of them, I love the music that fits the season without being about it. I love the music about the darkness that gives way to light, about people making their everyday lives about joy, about hope and rebirth and kindness and generosity.

The winter tests people when it comes; the cold and dark and early sunset push against the shadows in our minds. I am typing this now at 4:01pm Central Time, and already the sun is gone from the sky. Night will fall in a matter of minutes. It was dark when I left the house for work and it will be dark before I get home. The shortest day of the year up here in the north is truly short.

Sometimes I think we fill it up with a false cheerfulness from the holidays, the blaring bouncy songs on the radio and in stores, the aggressively green and red decorations, the screaming lights. Sometimes I think this whole Christmastime bustle is one big fight against the darkness that closes in on all sides and heralds the cold and ice and snow to come.

And you know what?

While I am SO TIRED of the overplayed music, and I roll my eyes at the commercialization, and I get irritated by the false cheer and kindness that melts away on December 26th when it should be a way of living year-round — in spite of all of that, I find it deeply appealing to live in an entire culture basically telling the dark and cold and gloom and despair to go choke on a Christmas tree.

“Yeah, yeah, dark and cold and blah. I’ll show you! I’m going to put up the most OBNOXIOUS lights I can, deck my house and my store and everything with as much gold and red and green and silver as I can lay hands on! You think the wind and snow will keep me quiet? How loudly do you want to hear my music? You think you can make me stay home and sulk? IT IS SHOPPING TIME.”

I don’t really think it’s intentional, but I do think that’s what happens. I think the year closing to the winter solstice is one big drain, and the way we fight it is with light and laughter and parties and singing and flowers and bows and good food and sappy movies. I think it’s an entire people using the same tricks I use against depression to hold back the season.

And it does work.

Even if I’m rolling my eyes while it goes.

But then, I usually appreciate a good show of defiance. As soon as you tell me that I need to bow down and let shadows fall, I usually start thinking about ways to light a candle. As soon as you tell me that being cold is an inevitability, I promise you I have figured out how to keep warm.

The thing we need to work on overall, as a society, is to quit thinking that giving and cheer and kindness and smiling at strangers is only really a ‘thing’ in December. Charities need money and supplies every day of the year. People need music and lights and that uplifting display all the time. Smiling at people on the street or in the store should be the default, not the exception.

Kindness and generosity should be everyday miracles, not Christmas miracles.

I actually get weird looks sometimes when I do that sort of thing. I got glared at in the grocery store last week because I was making eye-contact and smiling at people, or gave a sincere, pause-rather-than-rushing-off-with-my-stuff thank you to the person at the register. More than one person gave me a look that should have been withering. Should have made me back off letting my own light shine.

But. Um.

That’s not…really how I roll.

Uh, at all.

Ever.

If I have light, when I have light, I share it. That’s what I do. That’s what I’m FOR.

And you know what? For every variation on a glare, I got a smile in response. Tired smiles, surprised smiles, grateful smiles. I don’t expect any cashier to remember me, but I do see them breathe a little easier when I greet them cheerfully rather than with a dour or gruff look.

But maybe that’s the advantage, if there is such a thing, to living in a world of competing opposites. Of living day to day not knowing when the happiness and light are going to bleed from my soul and the cruelty inside my own head will start whispering again. When the energy I have to offer is poisoned and stripped until it is me who is needy with nothing left to give.

When you know the meaning of permanent, waiting-to-strike sorrow, maybe you know how precious it is to share joy when you have it.

When the mob in my head is swayed, I choose the star of kindness and defiance to set MY mind on, and I am staid.

For all the ugliness in the world, there is beauty, too. We have to look for it sometimes; we have to seek it out and draw it forth and wave it like a sword in the face of the advancing armies of darkness — but it is there.

And this is something I know.

Whatever we do to the web of life, we do to ourselves. Whatever I can put into the world will happen to others, those around me and those I’ve never so much as seen. When I vibrate the strands that connect us with a smile, with light, with laughter, I have to trust that my offering is reaching others. And know that theirs will come back to me.

We are all connected shouting against the winter dark in anticipation of the light. We are all one voice singing, sometimes aggravatingly, about joy and cheer. And we can’t stop the dark from falling, any more than we can — or should — stop the world from spinning.

But we can stop it from falling on each other and let it stay up in the sky where it belongs.

And that is a real miracle.

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Fearless

This is a song the TCWC is singing this weekend.  It’s one that I find myself listening to a lot these days, actually.

I don’t typically consider myself to be held back by fear.  It isn’t that I don’t HAVE fear; I have PLENTY of fear.  But I just…well, if I let being scared keep me back, I wouldn’t live where I do, I wouldn’t have married my wife, I wouldn’t go climbing three times a week, I wouldn’t do or have done any of the things that make me who I am.  Everything I cherish has only come to me after fear.  And it has always been worth it.

Even when, as Kat Perkins says, “There’s no love without heartbreak.”

I think this song has such a beautiful mix of pride and defiance and awareness of the things that do hold us back.  It reminds me that it’s okay that having courage is hard sometimes, that taking the step past the fear isn’t always going to be easy.  That it’s okay to struggle and be scared.

And that the ability to live in spite of fear, the ability to love in spite of fear, is a choice.  It isn’t often an easy one, and it isn’t often a painless one.

To live fearless is a decision a person has to make a million times a day, and it might not ever get any easier to do.  And it’s okay that it’s hard, it’s okay when it isn’t hard, and it’s okay to be proud of the times it works out right along with the times it doesn’t.

What would I do if I weren’t afraid?  Probably about what I’m doing right now.

And I’d still have bled for it, cried for it, ached and anguished for it.  And never regretted a minute of it.

Tonight, and every moment there’s a spark living in me, I’ll be fearless, too.

Thanks, Kat Perkins.

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Spotlight: Twin Cities Women’s Choir

This week saw the return of one of the major events that dominates my non-writing life, which is singing with the Twin Cities Women’s Choir (aka the TCWC). The choir’s season starts at the beginning of September and runs through about mid-May with multiple concerts per year, weekly rehearsals, and lots of side activities, fundraisers, and get-togethers.

The mission statement of the choir reads thusly:

The Twin Cities Women’s Choir is a diverse community that sings, performs, and affirms the voices of women.

Vision: We strengthen and inspire individuals and communities through song.

I have been a member of the TCWC since the September of 2006 and I can personally attest that this choir is everything it says it is and so much more. This choir is not just about a bunch of people getting together to learn and perform music, though it is that, obviously.

This choir is a true community, an extended family, a united group who strive for openness, collaboration, joy, fulfillment and peace. Also excellence in music, yes, of course.

I have been singing in one group or another since I was approximately 8 years old. I have participated in small groups, huge mass choirs, a rock band, and everything in between even before you start counting Candles Enough. I have sung in a dozen languages, performed sacred music from around the world, and the best (and worst) of pop and Broadway and Hollywood. Not a day of my life goes by without my singing to something somewhere, be it in my car, with my wife and partner in our band, at choir, or just to myself while washing dishes. I work with tunes playing on my iPod and my novels have all been written with their own soundtracks on repeat to keep me focused. One of the things I have learned about myself is that it is virtually impossible for me to do much of anything without music. Music is my heart and soul.

These things have been nourished, supported, and fostered in the TCWC until they shine more brightly than ever before in my life.

The Twin Cities Women’s Choir is an amazing place to make music with extraordinary women, but it is not only a place for me to make music. It has also become a surrogate family, a support network, a new home in which I have developed roots in a new place. This is a community of passionate, caring, dedicated women (and men too!) who would come running if a member or friend needed them. This is a choir that has stood with its members through the brightest joys and deepest pains of life, a choir that has sung for weddings and funerals and birthdays and anniversaries and parties. When I walk into the TCWC for rehearsal, I know that it doesn’t matter if I’ve had a terrible day or a great one — I will be welcomed and I will be cradled. I could cry on a shoulder or giggle with a neighbor and it will all be okay.

This is a choir that really, truly believes in the power of community, the power of women’s voices, women’s gifts, women’s hands and women’s hearts. I have learned more about music and more about myself as I see my spirit reflected in women of every age, every background, around me.

I have been honored to debut pieces for emerging composers that brought me to tears; I have sung songs of courage and fire and defiance and never doubted that our voices make a difference. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” (Attributed to Margaret Mead) If any such group exists for women in the Twin Cities, it is this choir.

The Twin Cities Women’s Choir has given me a home for my voice, a home for my heart, and a home for my passion. I am honored to be counted as a sister in song with every one of the women who have given of themselves to our organization.

This year is the TCWC’s 20th anniversary. It is MIND-BOGGLING to realize that I have been a part of this choir for half its life. And yet, I cannot imagine a world where I did not belong to the TCWC, where I did not spend Wednesday nights in a church basement laughing and singing.

I’m an author, yes, but even I’m not that good, you guys.

As the choir begins to rehearse for its 20th season, as we look back on beloved songs and look forward to new ones, I know it’s going to be an emotional ride. Some songs like “Music in My Mother’s House” and “Sister My Sister” can’t be sung without wringing tears from most of the women in the choir, myself emphatically included. Some songs stir memories of bad days or brilliant ones. Some songs are the WORST POSSIBLE earworms and I’m going to have them in my dreams for the next six months.

I’m looking at YOU, “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

I don’t even sing WORDS for the first half of the song! I just sing the windy part in a different key from the melody (honestly, yes, it is) with its own special, irregular meter! But NO, I’m gonna have that haunting tune Jan put together for us in my head NONSTOP. Thanks, TCWC.

On the other hand — thanks, TCWC.

No, seriously. Thank you.

Because when I was in a bad downswing and could barely breathe, you found a song I wanted to sing and I remembered how to live.

Because when the world crashed down and the people in power were frightening, you stood up, one hundred women strong, and refused to be cowed or silenced.

Because when there was joy and celebration and the happiest of times, you lifted your voices to share the jubilation across the sky.

Or, I should say…we did.

There’s a line in the song Sarah and I perform called “Binary” that we wrote for our wedding that goes, “So stand here with me as you’ve stood all along; your hand was in mine before my first song and my arms will hold you tonight.”

I’ve been singing since birth. I’ve lifted my voice in happiness and pain, on sunny days and through winter storms.

But I’m pretty sure I was always singing with the TCWC, even before it was born. There is always music in the world, always — we just have to find it.

The TCWC found that music like catching a star and hauling it down from the sky, and we hold it together, nurturing it and breathing it brighter and sharing it far and wide. I think maybe my song was always a part of that star and it was just incumbent upon me to go find it.

Some people find a church home, or a team, or a company, or some other organization.

I found my choir home.

And as the Twin Cities Women’s Choir celebrates 20 years of making music, enriching the lives of its members and audience, contributing to the world of music for and by women, and standing as one more light to shine through any darkness, I can only look forward to another 20 years.

And I’ll be there all the way.

If you’re curious, the website is here.

And here’s something from YouTube in case you need a song of your own today:

Thank you, TCWC, for carrying me home.

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