Sing, Sang, Sung… April 11, 2012

(1,481) 

in Safford, Arizona

Who knows? Maybe it shouldn’t have happened.

Yet when I was twelve years old, one evening I burst out in song in front of a bunch of friends and family and they all commended me on my deep voice and great sound. I don’t know what their motives were. Sometimes those of our own “kin and kind” feel it’s their duty to encourage some young fat boy by pointing out some false positives– to encourage self-esteem. Whatever the reasons were, I grabbed onto that praise like the church treasurer nabbing the offering plates on Sunday morning.

I started singing. I even gathered a little group of friends to sing with me. We thought we were good. We had already spent our first million from record sales before we ever performed our first song. The truth of the matter is, I was a “family-shower” singer. To my family I sounded just fine—worthy to be heard in small doses. My rehearsal for such musical performances always occurred in the shower, where I sounded absolutely astounding.

“Family-shower” singers. They’re everywhere. Nobody talks to them about pitch, tone, phrasing, breathing and faithfulness to the human instrument because that takes away a lot of the fun of just piping off. Television is full of “family-shower” singers, who make it to auditions or game shows, fully confident they are the next American phenomenon–because their families told them so and their sessions in the shower confirmed their prowess.

I know we want to be an encouraging type of folk instead of negative, but can we agree that it is never nasty to help people discover the best way to count the cost of their own ability? Because what happens with “family-shower” singers, if they are not interrupted by wisdom in the craft, is that they turn into “church-townsangers. They start singing special music in their churches, and a few organizations in the town get wind of it and invite them to sing the national anthem or some favorite love song of the wife of the president of the club. They are always applauded—and unfortunately given unnecessary standing ovations—and further encouraged to spread their good word in music.

Just by the simple action of performing, some of the “family-shower” singers, who become “church-town” sangers, actually do get a little better. But here’s a clue—people will tolerate mediocrity as long as they don’t have to pay for it. Very few “church-town” sangers get a single dime for crooning, even though they have invitations coming from everywhere because most planned events would love to have some special music or entertainment, even if it is a little sub-par.

The thing that makes my heart break for “church-town” sangers is that they all believe they are one break away from greatness. Many of them sit in pews in churches and criticize other people who are professionals because their jealousy will not allow them to “give it up” for people who have paid their dues and therefore achieved a greater level of excellence. They are normally envious, prideful—and broke.

It happened to me. Because after I became a “family-shower” singer, boosted in my ego by the compliments from my relatives, I soon became a “church-town” sanger, considered one of the better vocalists in my school. The choir teacher practically recruited me to come and join the chorus. And speaking of chorus, when we did that Halleluia one, written by Handel, I was the only male who could sing both the bass and the tenor parts. It made me prideful.

So when I got out of high school, I took my music group and we decided to audition for Pat Boone’s agent. Pat was pretty popular at the time (because white bucks had not yet gone out of style). Pat’s agent asked us to make a tape–reel-to-reel was fine—and send it to him so he and Pat could listen to our sound and determine how they could help us. We were ecstatic. So we found a guy in Columbus, Ohio, who had a reel-to-reel tape recorder and was willing to record us for free. We set up a date and went over to his house. We sang three songs and then he played them back.

It was most unfortunate. I didn’t know exactly how to tell him that there must be something wrong with his machine, because his recording didn’t sound a thing like us. It was flat, sharp, out of tune and everything else that’s fussy about music. I was so insistent that the machine was warbling or something that the gentleman finally apologized, handed me the tape and suggested maybe I could go someplace else to get a better recording. I decided against that, thinking that it was just the playback on his system that was distorting our sound, and sent the tape on to Pat Boone’s agent, assuming he would surely have better equipment.

This is going to shock you. I never heard from him again and he refused to return my calls.

After I got over my immature tizzy-fit, I realized that I was NOT a good singer. I also understood that no one was going to tell me that except the tape recorder, whose integrity I had viciously attacked. I started working. I started taping myself. I stopped making excuses common to “family-shower” singers and “church-town” sangers—things like: “I have a cold;” “it’s too early in the morning to sing;” “the acoustics are weird;” “that alto next to me is a problem—she sings like my mother;” “that’s too high;” “that’s too low;” “I forgot my lemon juice;” and “my dog ate my pitch-pipe.”

I worked. I performed. I listened to critique. I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the line I walked away from being a “family-shower” singer and a “church-town” sanger and became a sunger–someone who had sung–anytime, anyplace.

Because until you can do it anytime and anyplace, you are not worthy of the title.

So if you’re a “family-shower” singer or pursuing some other occupation similarly challenging, just remember—all God asks you to do is be willing to hear the criticism that will make you who you want to be instead of who you think you are. If you’re a “church-town” sanger, all your heavenly Father wants you to accept is work. Practice, perform, perfect. You can’t beat that trinity. It’s almost as good as the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.

And then, one day, after you’vefinished that last concert, you’ll become a “sunger”anytime and anyplace–and suddenly you will be worthy of what you do and completely humbled by the accolade.

It took me too long, because family and my shower, church and my town—were afraid to tell me. Isn’t it interesting that my best friend ended up being a reel-to-reel tape recorder? Maybe that’s just the way life is supposed to be.

Spend a little more time listening to the playback instead of just playing.

**************

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Sitting One

 I died today. 

I didn’t expect it to happen.  Then again, I did—well, not really.

No, I certainly didn’t expect it.

I’ve had moments of clarity in my life.  Amazingly enough, many of them were in the midst of a dream. For a brief second I would know the meaning of life or the missing treatment to cure cancer.  And then as quickly as it popped into my mind it was gone. I really don’t recollect dying.  Just this unbelievable sense of clear headedness—like walking into a room newly painted and knowing by the odor and brightness that the color on the wall is so splattering new that you should be careful not to touch it for fear of smearing the design. The greatest revelation of all? 

Twenty-five miles in the sky time ceases to exist.

The planet Pluto takes two hundred and forty-eight years to circle the sun. It doesn’t give a damn. 

The day of my death was the day I became free of the only burden I really ever had.  TIME.

Useless.

Time is fussy.  Time is worry. 

Time is fear.  Time is the culprit causing human-types to recoil from pending generosity. 

There just was never enough time. 

Time would not allow it.  Remember—“if time permits …”

Why if time permits?  Why not if I permit?  Why not if I dream?  Why not if I want?  Why does time get to dictate to me my passage? 

It was time that robbed me of my soulful nature.    It was time that convinced me that my selfishness was needed. 

I didn’t die. The clock in me died, leaving spirit to tick on.  

So why don’t we see the farce of time?  Why do we allow ourselves to fall under the power of the cruel despot?  Yes, time is a relentless master—very little wage for much demand.

I died today. 

Actually … a piece of time named after me was cast away.

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