I’ve just had one of those experiences that underline the thrill of being alive. I’ve been back to Camp Creative, a big summer school in Bellingen, making melodies for a whole week in a course called Joy of Singing.
As I sit here at my desk in a bit of withdrawal, reflecting on the good old days (yesterday) I ask myself: what is the key to unlocking that much pleasure? A moment ago, I got it. The secret is from an unlikely source—surrender. I can see that I’ve learned a good deal about surrender this week.
There are dozens of things to do at Camp Creative (well, sixty, to be exact), and many of them are of great interest to me. My friend Carrolline made the most beautiful piece of tapestry in her Textiles course; Daniel created a video and learned a lot about scriptwriting, acting, directing and editing in the process; the smells coming from the cooking area are compelling. There are terrific writing courses, instruments to master, many varieties of dance, any kind of craft you could think of. The tutors are always at the top of their field; you can’t make a mistake choosing a course.
So with this banquet of creative possibilities in front of me, what had me walking into the high school’s big staffroom, where Joy of Singing is held, for the third year in a row? I’m not the only one to suffer from this addiction. When we introduce ourselves at the beginning of the course, half of the people say things like, “This is my seventh time in Joy of Singing,” or “Here I am again,” or “I can’t keep away from this course,” or “I’ve been here practically since the dawn of time.” What is it about this particular class that has people ignoring the rest of the smorgasbord and coming back for a whole week of vocals?
Listen more closely to the introductions and you’ll hear part of the answer: “I love the people in this course.” “I always feel so closely connected to everyone.” “This is the BEST group of people.” The first time I heard these introductions, just over two years ago, it all felt a bit touchy-feely, but as is often the case my critical self has been proved an inadequate judge of what’s good for me. The combination of superb tutelage, harmonies, AND people who warm my heart, is, as Baby Bear said, juuuuuuust right. I’m completely happy for a week.
So the first thing to surrender to is community. In a choir, I am a small part of an amorphous, ever-changing organism. I get to practice listening far more closely than I ever do in the rest of my life—listening so that I am a perfect and imperceptible part of this larger whole. There are over 50 other voices in the room and my job is to hear and meld with every single one of them. As someone said, in closing remarks, it’s like being an amoeba, filling the spaces, changing shape as required. It was a lovely metaphor, which I haven’t done justice to here. Being an amoeba is about as simple as it gets—and that’s something to surrender to.
The part of me that listens to the inner critic (you might enjoy my earlier post on this theme) has a lot to surrender to as well. I love the Rita Mae Brown quote, “Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.” This year I learned the joy of what we called “unplanned solos”—that breathtaking moment when yours is the only voice in the space, and you know you’ve stuffed up your entrance. It’s not a delightful occurrence but this year I discovered unplanned solos are far more fun than carefully holding back. When I surrender to the joyous inevitability of making mistakes, I’ve discovered my inner critic can be gob-smacked into silence.
Or how about the unexpected challenge of surrendering to perfection?—when the melodies are filling every space in your heart, and you think you can’t stand it, it just gets more perfect. As the glass-half-empty person who, for example, looks at our gardens and can see only the work that needs to be done, I find that Joy of Singing is excellent practice at celebrating the whole-hearted beauty of something.
Here’s another related surrender: to the embarrassment of being in the limelight. When we do our performances, sometimes to sizeable crowds, generous audiences applaud wildly and heap admiration on us. It takes something to not point out the errors in their enthusiasm, and just be with the fun both you and they have had.
Another thing I have to surrender to whenever I am in the presence of top notch teaching is not being in the limelight. Here I am, an expert in the field of education, and I have to submit to being a rank beginner whose job is to sit back and follow instructions. Part of me wants to wave my hands and shout, “I may not be much at singing but I’m a masterful teacher.” Sigh; yet more surrender required.
I am no stranger to an undisciplined brain, particularly after focusing on mindfulness training for the past few months, but the absolute cacophony that goes on in there when I’m involved with choral singing is something else again. I’m referring to what’s sometimes known as an “earworm”—the melodies which play in your head quite independent of your influence (Wikipedia’s dry definition: “An earworm is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind after it is no longer playing.”) Right now, “Bring me ’little water, Sylvie” is raging through my synapses. A few minutes ago it was Shosholoza. For well over a week, I have to surrender my brain to something totally outside my control. Scary.
As Brian Martin, one of our leaders, reminded us at the end of the course, we learned a lot about harmonies and about using our voices—but the core to the program is about singing with joy. And all the big lessons I learned about creating joy, I can take back to Mitchells Island and the rest of my life.
Who’d have guessed the key was surrender?
A final plug for The Joy of Singing: This year husband Rick and housemate Michael joined the choir and helped fill out the wonderful bass section. A friend who watched the big performance at the end of the week said she’d never seen either of them look so alive and happy. I’m not sure I have either, and that’s saying something.