Marlissa's Musings

Learning Why I Sing

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Whenever I sing, I deign to give more than I receive. That can be tough, because whenever I sing I find that the energy and love sent to me from the audience far outweighs any gift I can provide. That being said, I had a transformative experience a couple of months ago that I should share. I hesitated to write about it, since it invoked such strong, personal feelings in me.

Like many singers, I have a church job. For those of you who are unaware, many (mostly affluent) churches hire singers to bolster their volunteer choirs, sing solos, etc. I have a wonderful one at All Souls Unitarian in DC. I love the music we sing, and enjoy the people, clergy, and atmosphere of openness. One particular Sunday, I invited my beau, Ron, to the late worship service. His one job was to save my seat while I sang with the choir. I noticed, however, that he let an elderly gentleman sit close to him – which wouldn’t leave me and my hips much room. Although initially irritated, I realized I was altogether wrong for feeling that way and checked myself.

It turns out there was barely enough room for the 3 of us in that section of the pew, and we considered moving over. The fact that we didn’t move was nothing short of beautiful, which I’ll explain next. For most of the rest of the service I sang from the pew, and ended up basically singing in the poor man’s ear. Per usual, I jet out of the service when it’s over, because I have to rush to reconnect with Hudson and either get him for the upcoming week or drop him off to his father. This time, however, the elderly man stopped me – with tears in his eyes. Sidebar: whenever I see a man teary or crying I instantly get teary. For that reason, I never look a man in the eyes before I sing at a funeral, or else I end up warbling through the entire piece.

Because I made the mistake of looking him in the eyes, I knew I was already in trouble. He took my hand, and thanked me for singing next to him. Instead of giving my patent “you’re too sweet/kind/generous” response, I listened quietly and patiently. Apparently his wife, deceased for seven years, was a wonderful singer. His voice cracked audibly as he said “your singing brought her back to me. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to experience her presence again for a short while.” I barely held it together long enough to tell him how completely touched I was by his words, then ran out to the car and bawled my eyes out. I’ve received many beautiful compliments in my life, but what he said to me reached me somewhere way deeper than what was comfortable. It reminded me of why I sing, and why we all strive to touch others with whatever gifts we have. It reminded me of my father, who passed only a couple of months after I graduated from Duke, and of my grandmother “Mommy Alice”, who was a huge supporter of my music. I was buoyed and affected by all those who haven’t been able to see me through to this moment, and felt an overwhelming debt of gratitude for the love and support I’ve received, and continue to receive, from the world.

I’ve undoubtedly been blessed beyond what I deserve or require, but I can’t begin to express how much his words meant to me. You never know when you’re blessing someone near you with the gifts you’ve been given.

So I’m really more interested in your experiences, transformative or otherwise. When did you unexpectedly become a blessing to someone around you? Does it still impact the way you function and see yourself in the world?

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