Joined Dec 17 2008
FREE AT LAST
My parents were musically talented, and I was fortunate to be exposed to music through them. They both taught me how to play piano; Dad later gave me organ lessons. I also began playing flute in the 4th grade. Singing was also part of family life, although my folks know nothing about sacred harp singing. We harmonized as a family, the five of us, singing at Christmas or in church, but mostly just at home.
When it was time to go to college, I wanted to major in music, but Dad thought that was a bad idea. "You can perform, compose, or teach, and none of them pay very much," he said. Reluctantly, I took his adviceand chose another major.
Between the ages of 20-40, I plunged myself into a variety of musical experiences - I sang in choirs and choruses, accompanied soloists and subbed at churches, played in a local orchestra, and even learned to play bassoon well enought to be in a wind ensemble. Yet behind all this effort was my inner regret and frustration that I was not a "professional", only an "amateur".
My life came to a screeching halt in the mid-eighties. I developed cancer, my marriage failed, and I became a single parent with two young boys. It was impossible for me to keep up with the musical demands I had placed on myself. I dropped out of my life as I had known it- I sold my bassoon, kept my flute and piano, remarried, left the Northeast, and relocated in of all places, Mississippi.
It was then that musical paralysis set in. I figured the traumas of the previous few years could partly explain why I was unable to sing or play an instrument, but the musical desolation of rural Mississippi also seemed to accentuate my depression - church choirs were the only opportunity I could find, and they were sketchy, at best. I wondered if I was going to musically atrophy; the old thought of not being musically talented enough continued to haunt me. These thoughts were getting in the way of my enjoying music at all. It was a vicious mental cycle that kept me away from music for years. I had to break this cycle, but I didn't know how.
In 1991, I ran into Warren Steel at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Oxford, Mississippi. He told me a little about Sacred Harp music and mentioned a sing that was to happen in Bruce, Mississippi. I was curious and went; I was unimpressed. The group of 10 elderly people was very low energy. No explanations or introductions about Sacred Harp were made, no effort to acknowledge a stranger in their midst. Just fasola this and fasola that. I couldn't figure out why they bothered with those blasted shapes - it would have been a heck of a lot easier to just sing the words. As I observed this unassuming group of shape note singers and looked past their musical imperfections of rhythm and pitch, I realized that none of these people had any concerns about calling themselves " amateur" or "professional". Those terms meant nothing to them. They were simply enjoying singing to the glory of God.
As I went away from there, it came to me that when the sole point of music is to be able to enjoy it for its own sake and connect with the Spirit, then "amateur" and "professional" become irrelevant. Somehow, mysteriously, this thought stayed with me and led me out of my depression. I was able to let go and begin enjoying music for its own sake.
I moved to Savannah in December of 2005 and that following spring discovered the Savannah Sacred Harp Singers through an ad in the Connect free paper. Everyone was immediately warm and welcoming to me. I have been coming ever since.
This finding of my musical self has been disarmingly simple - I sing to be at one with the music and connect to the Spirit. When that happens, I experience God.
If Dad were alive today, I would say to him, "Dad, I don't have to perform, teach, or compose - I can just sing Sacred Harp!"