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…

The Thing About….STANDING

I played the guitar in a performance standing up for the first time.  Have I performed for years standing up as a singer? Sure.  But, with a guitar, this is a whole new adventure.

I thought that standing would be too hard- how can I see my hand to make the chord changes, how can I hold the guitar and play it…..  Too many things to think about. Then, a few months ago, I went to my first open mic. The room was freezing. I started to shiver. My teeth began chattering. But, I wanted to sing, so I did….

Before I knew it, the guitar starts bouncing on my knees- my legs are shaking so much that there is literally a rhythmically-timed airspace between my lap and the guitar. And I wonder, am I cold or am I nervous?  And from that place I sang the song. Well, I got through it- I sang, but I didn’t SING. So, I decided, I had to stand. Then, if my legs tremble, whether due to weather or the jitters, my guitar will not bounce on my lap and maybe I will be able to SING.

So, there I stood recently, my first performance of 2012, mouth to the mic, strumming away, song memorized, and I realized wow- I can see people- because when I sit with a music stand in front of me, there is this lovely bubble of insulation that seems to guard from anything outside me, my sheet music, and my guitar.  And now, I am looking out and I can see people watching me.  And strangely, for me, never once did I wonder- Do they like me? Do they like my song? …and all of the other pervasive thoughts that lead down the path to quaking knees and flitting butterflies….Never once. Instead, I thought, wow- I didn’t look at my hand on the neck- I found that chord by feel- and wow- I am singing my own song. And, wow- I am standing.

About a year ago, I decided to challenge myself to play an original song in public. And I did.  It has been quite a journey for me to sing my thoughts aloud, as I rarely share my views with people I don’t know. This is not the case when singing in front of strangers…. But it came down to this- I need to sing. So, I did.

SING. That is what the little voice has always said when I shut off the interfering chatter and the disruptive judgment, guessing about things that I have no control of- like what you think. And I discovered that it doesn’t matter. Because, if I want to sing, I will. And, if you want to listen, you will.  And with that, I invite you to read my journeys if you like.

The thing about standing is that once you stand, it is hard to think about going back to sitting. I mean, I can, but by choice and not out of necessity. And, when standing, your whole body is engaged in the music and it feels like dancing.  The thing about standing is that- well, I have felt honored to watch a few babies take their first steps. All of a sudden, the crawling no longer gets them to the heights that they’d like to reach. So they hold out their arms for help. They reach to you and you reach down to them. But then, there is a moment when they realize they can stand on their own and they take a step.  And soon, they are reaching what they want and on their own.  And that is the thing about standing- there’s always more growing to do, and running and jumping and skipping and dancing- but the first step has been taken.

The moment now embedded in memory- when I stood up and sang…                                                                                                                And everything in me smiled.

And I breathe that in….

before looking around from this new place and reaching my foot forward to feel out the new ground ahead.