It is in the nature of the Musical Walkabout project that it be a moving experience, hopefully for all involved, but most certainly for myself on a daily basis. Each session is variously rewarding and as it grows in scope, new facets of understanding open up to me as it’s primary facilitator. I say primary, as every participant contributes something valuable to the overall experience, be they resident, family, friend or a wonderful staff member.
As somebody who has been performing for the better part of their life, the concept of professionalism is deeply rooted in my psyche. What this means to me has recently undergone something of an overhaul, but largely up until now it has required of me a certain stoicism regarding this particular project. Participants regularly say or do things that deeply affect me, and while I am always receptive to and engaged by these exchanges of emotion or memory, I now realise I have been keeping myself distant, lest I…duh, duh, DUH…show vulnerability!
In the past, as a professional singer, I have been called upon to perform at weddings, funerals, in hospices and for the very frail and dying. My role, as I saw it, was always to service a moment; be a conduit for other people’s emotional catharsis, and therefore retain my own calm and, essentially, distance. My empathy was, I hope, always present, but my true emotional connection, or openness, were less so.
Interestingly, as an audience member at the great Carol Grimes’ recent show at Folkestone’s Quarterhouse (a masterful and moving experience), I found myself shedding three hard-won tears as she sang the haunting ballad “Where Does The Time Go”. I was aware of the oddness at counting my tears, but more so that the music and her sublime delivery had been able to elicit from me this emotional response, and publically, if only from the relative anonymity of the auditorium.
In conversation with wise counsel this month, I hinted somewhat obtusely that to be vulnerable was terrifying. I hadn’t picked up on the statement, and when it was brought to my attention, I realised that this is what has been missing from not only my life as a performer, but my practice as a facilitator of the Musical Walkabout. This revelation was all the more clear to me because of an incident that occurred during a session, just prior to the conversation that revealed this truth.
A lovely man at one of the Care Homes I attend for the project had requested a song of me which for one reason or another I had taken overlong to deliver. This particular gentleman has always been receptive during sessions, kindly leaving me with words of encouragement and thanks. On our most recent meeting, I had finally got the lyric to hand and was fairly raring to sing the song for him. As I began, he joined me with his own clear and sweet voice in this song he knew so well. His response, the tenderness with which he partook in the moment, broke through my ‘professional’ barriers.
That the song was already meaningful to him was apparent. Each interaction I have with residents never fail to surprise and humble me, but that this experience would wholly change my perspective as a performer was an unexpected delight. As I sang I began to cry, and suddenly felt a momentary panic; not for my ability to continue singing, that felt secure. The fear I encountered was vulnerability, allowing myself to surrender entirely to the emotion of the moment. Be present.
I have long espoused philosophies on ‘serving the tune’; not playing from the ego, but attempting to service the music itself, the moment and communicate honestly with my fellow musicians and, of course, the audience. I struggled immensely with this in my youth, but found my growing confidence as a performer in my late twenties facilitated some growth in this area. But of late, I’m going deep, and I LOVE IT!
Being vulnerable can be terrifying, but the moment I stopped repressing my emotions and gave myself permission to be visibly and honestly moved by the musical experience we were all sharing, I felt a palpable sense of relief. And surprise, surprise, I wasn’t sneered at, thought less of, deemed unprofessional. We laughed about it as the song ended, and then the lovely man said some beautiful things about the poignancy of the song for him, and I leaked some more salt water. And it was all good.
I hope to embed this lesson into my practice from here on out; as a performer – to be more honest. As a musical practitioner – to be unafraid of the intimate emotional nature of the work, and to allow myself to be involved in it. As a person – to remember that catharsis will creep up on you when you least expect it, if you let it, and should always be welcomed like an old friend.
Thanks for reading, and keep singing, one and all…
p.s. sorry no glorious pics this blog.. lush vids and photos on the way!