Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Singing From the Heart...Even If It Makes You Uncomfortable
Right now I'm struggling with what to say (if anything) to Joie's music teacher about Joie's expression of the gift that is inside her. She has just started lessons and is getting songs ready for the spring recital. She is loving it, and loves the teacher. I'm glad we found her, but Joie experienced something today that has me questioning how personal expression should be in performances, and how much of it is just performance...doing a good job of what is in front of you.
Explanation: Joie's real life experience includes more grief than most people will ever know or bear in their lifetimes. She has always expressed that through song. When her parents first died, she'd write lyrics to music that were some of the saddest words I've ever read. Over the time she's been with us, she finds sad music on youtube and sings along. She and another friend whose mom died have spent hours reading lyrics and singing sad songs. Other friends have even joined in.
My own personal feeling is that all of this expression is a form of healing--that she uses this God-given gift to express the things inside her that could never the spoken. It gets all of that hurting out in the open, and as emotional as that can sometimes be, some of her most expressive singing happens when she sings songs that she connects with. It's like the combination of notes and lyrics transform all that pain into an organized form of expression, and she heals.
One thing we know for sure after having experienced such profound grief in our family is that not everyone is comfortable with grief. In fact, most people aren't. Most people are quite uncomfortable with it, and often try to make it all ok...or make it better.
On the way home from singing lessons this evening, Joie told me that she told her singing teacher she wanted to sing Carrie Underwood's song, "Just A Dream." (Watch the video to the song here.) In the song, Carrie Underwood sings about a young bride who becomes a military widow, and as she walks through the funeral, is feeling like it is all just a dream. I've heard that song numerous times, and even though I'm not a military widow, I know the feeling of being in the church and walking through the motions of a funeral that seems like just a dream. And so does Joie. She knows it too well.
But today, her teacher told her that she just couldn't see a cute, happy 12 year old girl singing that song. Joie was telling me this and said, "I think my teacher wants to see me as a cute, happy 12 year old."
Profound. Without more than a passing comment about a choice of songs, Joie knew that this wasn't about her own expression--that at least for the spring recital she needed to put on a smile and be the cute, happy 12 year old that her teacher needed her to be. Her expression of what was inside her--what she connected with would have to be in another time and another place that didn't make people uncomfortable.
The truth is, this is her singing teacher's spring recital. This is very much a reflection of her, and her years of experience are probably spot on when it comes to what is and isn't appropriate for a performance. It might be confusing to people in an audience to see a 12 year old girl singing about a young bride's grief.
At the same time, I was there with this 12 year old when she was 8, standing next to not one, but three caskets on the day she said her final earthly farewell to the only family she had ever known. She can't make that not a part of her, and it's one thing that makes her musical expression what it is. She doesn't only sing about grief, but certainly in her most expressive, from-the-heart moments, she is connecting with something deep inside her that only music can touch. There must be a place deep down where pain and art meet so the pain can find it's way out of her.
And so it is that I find myself in this internal struggle between other people's comfort and Joie's expression of grief. More than anything, I think I just want everyone in her world to be able to acknowledge her reality when she expresses it. Not that she has to express it all the time to everyone... In fact, as time goes on and she makes friends with people who don't know about her loss, she expresses relief at just being herself and not the girl whose family died. At the same time, it takes a lot of courage for her to venture those expressions of herself, and in my ideal, perfect world, people in her world would be comfortable enough with her reality to just sit with her in those feelings and be ok with it, and not have to fix it.
Temporarily we've solved the problem by finding a song that became meaningful to us in a different way after her family died. I'm not sure why, but it's important right now for Joie to sing about things close to her heart and the teen crush songs that a cute, happy 12 year old would be singing aren't quite cutting it with her. (Give her a year or two...I'm sure young love will soon be at the top of her list of vocal expressions.)
Meanwhile, I vent. Come spring recital time, it will be interesting to see what emerges. There is a time and a place for everything, and a spring recital may not be the time or the place... But neither was August 18, 2007. There is nothing convenient about grief.