We went to a recital last night, Nancy and I. We would have invited you if we had thought about ustream before we showed up. As it ended up, I ran an old VHSC camera to capture it.
Ashley Treadway is a senior music education major. Her mom and Nancy work together for the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir. Ashley did the recital as part of the requirements for her degree.
She did a great job, looking out at an audience that was full of potential attitudinal landmines. As I was listening to one voice taking years of practice and years of ensemble performance and years of life and turning it all into one night in the spotlight, I realized that Ashley was doing what all of us do every day: taking her gifts and training and giving them to an audience.
But what an intriguing audience.
In the front row were her parents. They are the people who know her well, who have turned labor into money into lessons. They are the investors in this voice. They cheer when things are great, cry along when things are not, and care more for the person than the voice.
Just behind them and then off to the left are the grandparents and aunt. They have been cheering at a distance. They helped build the people that built Ashley. They help by being part of the context.
To the right, closer to the camera, are the friends. They are also a few rows behind the camera. They are the ones who whistle when the recital is over, who stand and applaud when that kind of response is slightly over the top for the kind of music. But they don’t care. They have been through this process themselves, or will be through it soon. They know from personal experience the risk of putting your voice–unprocessed, unamplified, unharmonized–into space.
The white hair close to us, just to the right of the middle of the picture? No one knows. He just came to the recital. Not family, not student, just a guy who listened well.
The person closest to us, with the paper in front of her, is an evaluator. She took notes throughout the recital. She never clapped, she just wrote. She is the keeper of tradition, one of the gatekeepers to deciding whether Ashley is really a musician or is just another singer.
In our writing, in our living, are all of these audience members, and many more. There is a tremendous temptation to play to one or the other. For example:
- We focus entirely on the critic, trying to measure up and feeling the terror of being professionally destroyed. We play too cautiously.
- We focus on the parents who have done so much, but who we can also read too well, too sensitively in the moment.
- We focus on the cheering friends, enjoying the fellowship and affirmation, but not getting the evaluation which can be so helpful.
- We focus on the random guy, missing out on the commitment and continuity of community.
- We focus on the camera, wanting the perpetuity but missing the moment.
Or we can focus on doing the task at hand incredibly well.
Ashley, I think, had a good time. She sang well. And all of the audiences, including the woman right in front of me, were very affirming. And my guess is that for the good of all the audiences, she focused on what mattered: the music. And in focusing on doing the music well, all of us received more than we imagined: the delight of watching someone do part of what they were made to do.
Yes. You see, Ashley isn’t a music performance major, she is a music education major. She has gone through this not so much to make her living from singing, but to spend her life helping other people find their voice.
Sometimes, we live our lives in front of each other so that we can help others understand how to live a life.
Or, we can just play to the audience.