The Thing About…MEMORIZING

So, when I have learned music in the past, there are a few stages to my process. First, I am glued to the sheet music, learning the melody, rhythm, lyrics… Then, the song somehow gets stuck in my head and I can step away from the notation. At this point, when there is no physical guide, I can really listen and begin to interpret the music as it connects with me.

The thing is, with my own music, I have really enjoyed NOT memorizing.

I’m constantly making changes. All of a sudden, a completely different way to play something strikes me and I am in exploration mode as I uncover nuances and different ways to express MY story.  In a way, I don’t want this journey to end. I don’t want the discoveries to stop.  Yet, I also don’t want to be bound to the sheet music in performance.

And then, there is the undeniable desire to just cling to the music… Without this roadmap, the fear of forgetting comes up.

And, I have forgotten lyrics before….

One night I was performing in a really important, well-attended show and I forgot the words. It wasn’t pleasant for me. In fact, it was quite humiliating and surprising, because you never know when your mind might suddenly go blank…  And then, when it does, it is about the recovery. How quickly can you salvage the storyline and have everything make sense again? Usually I can get back on track in a flash. The thing is, you feel this cloud of shame hanging over your head and just wish you were anywhere except where you are- in front of an huge crowd of people who have just witnessed your lyric-flubbery.

Sometimes, I have come out victorious from these blunders.  All of a sudden, new lyrics are pouring out of my mouth and the words even rhyme!  How convenient! How relieving! Sometimes, this has worked out…and, other times, not so much…

Once, the night before an audition, the perfect song for that show popped into my head at around 10pm.   I decided to write my own arrangement.  So, I entered the notes and lyrics into my computer and printed it out.  Though I had never sung it before, it was a well-known 50s song and I figured I would be fine…  The next morning, I sat in the waiting room, listening to the recording repeatedly. Then, an announcement was made that instead of a full song, they now only wanted to hear 16 bars, which was less than a quarter of the song.  I went back to my freshly printed sheet music and literally began to cut it with my Swiss Army knife scissors and reconstruct it with a glue stick.  I want this to be the beginning now… this part of this verse is good…the last part of the chorus maybe…and this will be the ending… When I finished the surgery, I incessantly reviewed the quick-paced lyrics….  And then I was called in. From the moment the announcement was made to the time I walked in the room, perhaps 3 minutes had passed. Everything started off just fine.  The audition panel was smiling, possibly enjoying the song or planning their spring break… Then, all of a sudden it happened.  Something weird came out of my mouth when I was coming up on the last line and the song no longer made sense… and it was the well-known punchline of the song and I quickly started spitting out lyrics- my own- to make the joke work, somehow.  And, then it was done. Because 16 bars is REALLY short.  And they laughed.  They said my lyrics were quite ‘clever.’  That was a good word for it.  And, I got through it, but- lesson learned: Don’t re-write something immediately before you audition for a professional production. Got it.

Anyway, with my own music…

I’ve taken such care to choose every word, every note, every inflection.  And, if I could just stare at the paper, maybe it would be perfect. But, what I know about performing is that sometimes there is magic in mistakes.  Sometimes the unknown leads to an uncharted musical moment or an emotional experience that moves the audience because it is so raw and powerful. And, I want that too.  So, how can I perfectly present what I envision and leave room for unexpected beauty?  I don’t think I can. I am trying to let go of this need to be perfect, and to accept that  whatever my best is, will be enough.  But, please, (here’s the prayer-) just let me remember my own songs…