November 21, 2011
A few years back, I answered “a call” to SING–by reluctantly joining the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus. This was a one time thing for me, but the women of BWC have continued for 16 years, including this past weekend’s Thanksgiving concert. It is in the spirit of Thanksgiving–for the work of chorus director Becky Graber and the board & women of BWC–that I share the piece of writing below.
It was the second or third stop on the Mother’s Day Nursing Home Tour when it hit me.
The Low Middles and I had just patched our way through Que Sera Sera–a song my mother loved–one whose harmony slipped from my memory when it was our time to sing.
I’d been scrambling to learn my part to this and a dozen others for weeks in preparation for our big concert at the Baptist Church. I didn’t like the pressure. I didn’t like being unprepared.
My jewel of revelation was here.
I had long admired the work of the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus, and had even co-opted their music years ago to create a women’s sing-along in my community of Marlboro; but I had never wanted to perform with them. I didn’t like the responsibility of it. My life had been too full with responsibility.
It was my spirit that cajoled me.
Over the years, I had grown accustomed to responding to this inner voice. It had taken me on a wild ride from an Art and Meditation Class to a Ballet Class to this. I knew there was a good reason why I was supposed to sing with the chorus, I just didn’t know what it was.
Once I had made the commitment and began rehearsing , I expected some great gift of joy to be released.
I hadn’t realized how hard it would be to focus on music for two to three hours at a time, particularly in the evening when I liked to crawl under the covers with a book. I hadn’t realized just how much all my years at home had ruined me as a student. I didn’t want to be told where and when to sit or stand. I didn’t like being part of the herd and I didn’t know how to small-talk like women do on the rides home.
Sitting at a cafe one afternoon, I was approached by a friend whose wife had been singing with the chorus for years. “She loves it,” he told me, complaining that she wouldn’t take a break no matter how full their plates were.
I told him that I didn’t really want to join and shared how anxious I felt about the performance. Though it didn’t feel particularly sublime in the moment, his response, like a pebble tossed into a pond, rippled again and again.
“It is all of your voices,” he said, “Coming together, that made the music so beautiful.”
Little by little, I began to experience just that.
On the day that we came to sing at the nursing homes, I knew it to be true. It wasn’t the perfection of any one of our voices or parts, that made the music, it was the mysterious alchemy of coming together–without perfection.
How can I begin to put into words the depth of my experience? How can I communicate the breadth of its influence in my life? Not one of us Low Middles knew our part fully. But each of us offered something to the other–so that together, we made the music.
We made the shades rustle, the faces lift, the eyes brighten. And for me personally, a profound understanding emerged: that I can be supported, that it is not all about me and my responsibility or my perfection, that it is in our fallibility as well as our competency that we support and uplift others.
On the following Sunday, I stood at the podium on the altar at the Baptist Church and gave VOICE to Julia Ward Howe’s words. A wind came through me and spread her thoughts resounding through the room. Tears sprung from my eyes eyes and I was swept up in the passion of her voice. I felt a strength that I have never known. The strength that comes from vulnerability.
On the fourth floor of Eden Park, I had seen vacant eyes, drooping heads, drooling mouths. This is where we discard our elders, I thought. But when the music began, and we came together in song, the room came to life—not just in front of me, but within me.
I saw a husband tend his wife, wipe her mouth, hold her trembling hands. I heard a woman, at first talking out a lifetime of troubles, begin to sing, eyes brightening, connecting with ours. I felt a nurse spread love throughout the room with her caresses.
As we left the floor, I approached a woman who had never opened her eyes or lifted her head to our performance. I gently squeezed her shoulder, and to my surprise, she moved her head to cradle it against my forearm.
I put down my backpack and gave her a full embrace knowing that she felt everything around her even though I hadn’t seen it.
Kelly Salasin, November 2011
For more about the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus, click here.
For more about Director Becky Graber, click here.