Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Crisis Averted

Greetings, all. I write to you today under very extenuating circumstances. I've been given an opportunity that, in some respects, is quite an honor, but it has the potential to be the downfall of my faith in collegiate a cappella. And in music. I've been asked, for my second year in a row, to take the reigns of the all-male a cappella group at Sarah Lawrence. They've asked me to, again, be their musical director and visionary for the years to come (just kidding about the latter part). I'm hesitant and a bit pessimistic about the whole thing. Beyond leading the group musically, expectations have been set by alums of the group who seem to think the group is ready to compete in national competitions. Here begins my dilemma...

My musical abilities are innate almost--the only reason I'm a "good" musician is because I was told to be. Perfection is a must before anything else. I grew up in a house hold where music wasn't an option, it was a requirement. My thirteen year-old self would say that my mother forced me to play all those instruments (cello, piano, and viola) and practice them with no remorse: piano lids would easily "fall" on precocious fingers striving for excellency in the face of mistake; tears cushioned anger and frustration and pain while only sometimes getting me out of the dreadful practice sessions that took up so much of my adolescence. I've stopped playing since then but really my mother couldn't handle my extreme opposition. I chose a different path--my own path--that slowly but surely framed my "difficult" past in a new light. Nowadays, I look back on these stressful events only to be reminded of those negative times without appreciating that I actually was thriving. I may have been "damaged" but in truth, I learned something incredibly valuable: integrity before complacency.

This exampled followed me to the Chicago Children's Choir where Artistic Director Josephine Lee taught me what musical excellence was about. I performed weekly with this ensemble and rehearsed 2 to 3 times a week at best. We could be performing anything from Bach motets to Mo-Town Medleys but the learning never, ever stopped. Anytime we performed more difficult contemporary music where tonal clashes were ever present, we rehearsed them until they sounded the way they were intended to sound. Often, there was choreography for our Pop selections and that was an entire rehearsal's work. Coming from that and going to my college's a cappella group is like going from Carnegie Hall to street performing.

For me the conflict in directing this group again means sacrificing artistic integrity for artistic complacency. Like last year, we're good enough to get by performing once a semester yet anything more would be shooting in the dark. Sure, who knows what we could be? Really, though? Everyone knows what we're not. It's not that these men don't want to be good, they do. It's just that together, we're nothing exceptional and that's where it falls flat for me. I'm not sure that I can give myself to something that isn't going to change. In situations like these, patterns form fast and solidify quicker than we'd want them to. That's all that it is, though. The group may want change but, in the end, who gives a shit? Who wants to give themselves to something that's entirely temporal and will be over by the time they graduate from their very expensive liberal arts college.

Music is the essence of my life but there's still so much more to learn. I know that I'm "good" but it doesn't help that I don't think this is the right position for me to be in. I'm also good at convincing myself that something isn't right for me and 9 out of 10 times, I'm right. Maybe if I could just spend a year focusing on what I don't know instead of exercising what I do know, I'd be able to come back and view this opportunity more positively. Right now, leading an a cappella group seems almost as lucrative as running for class president--it glosses the résumé with glitter and doom. I can imagine later on, sending off my résumé to future employers, and hearing them laugh when they read "Musical Director of all-male a cappella group at Sarah Lawrence College: 30 hrs a week."

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