New York Times  Bestselling Author

Singing Humbly

moha closeup for blog copyI’ve reached the age where I know what I do well: I write well. I can structure the heck out of a novel. I can create characters who will make you weep. I’m a pretty good teacher. I enjoy public speaking.

Then there are other things that teach me humility.

Today, I sat in Starbucks running through my notes for a characterization workshop I’ll be teaching at the November 14th meeting of the Heart of Carolina Romance Writers. I have this giant folder into which I’ve thrown all sorts of writing class material over the years, and I was  going through it, trying to figure out how to condense what I want to teach into an hour and a half. I came across something I’d written several years ago about God. I wrote about God as an experience rather than a “being.” I experienced God in the night sky, I wrote. In the fall leaves. In the sea. And in singing.

Whoa.

I stared at that phrase I experience the divine when I sing. I remember writing it. I remember feeling the truth in the words. But it is no longer true for me and I wonder if it’s a feeling I’ll ever be able to recapture.

When I wrote those words, I was singing regularly with an interfaith community choir, Mosaic Harmony, in Northern Virginia. (The picture here is one of my favorites, taken by my sig-other John, during a MoHa concert). Although we came from many faith backgrounds–Christian, Jewish, humanist, atheist–and our director often had to adjust the lyrics to make us all comfortable with the songs, we all had a love of the primarily Gospel music we were singing. I’ve never had a great voice, but I can carry a tune, and that was the only requirement. (Actually there were no requirements but I’d say most of us could manage that much). I had no choral experience (if you ignore junior high. I would dearly love to ignore junior high), but I was quickly swept up by the passion of the singing. We used no sheet music. When you’re rockin’ and clappin’, there’s no way to hold music. We had lyric sheets, which we quickly committed to memory and tossed–and we taped our parts and practiced them at home and in our cars until we had them down. We regularly performed one or two hour concerts, but we had months to learn each song and although we were by and large amateurs, we were good. We even cut a couple of CDs. Singing with MoHa, I had moments of rapture. There’s no other word to describe the feeling. At times, I sang through tears of joy.

Fast forward. I love my new church here in North Carolina, and I quickly joined the choir. As with most church choirs, we use sheet music and we learn songs quickly for upcoming services. I never did learn to sight read music and to say that I’m struggling is an understatement. This is a small choir with an excellent young director. The singers are so good! (If any of my fellow choir members are reading this post, know that you have my admiration along with my envy.) They’re handed a piece of music and start ripping through it–sometimes in latin, no less–while I’m still trying to figure out the first alto note. Determined, I take the music home and practice the alto part on my keyboard. But it is an intellectual exercise for me, not a spiritual one, and I can’t help it–that saddens me. I don’t foresee the day when I will have mastered this process enough to ever again feel the “rapture.” I’ve thought of taking music and voice classes, because I do love singing, but given my writing schedule I don’t see how I can fit them in.

I like to look at uncomfortable situations as learning opportunities. I don’t mean “learning how to sing.” I mean “What can I learn about Diane-in-the-world through this discomfort?” So far, I’ve learned that there are some things I simply suck at. LOL. A humbling experience, to be sure. I’ve also learned that I need to find ways other than singing to be in touch with the divine. I’ve discovered how hard it can be to learn new tricks, and I realize that I haven’t challenged myself this way in a long, long time. I may also learn that it’s okay to give up. Ouch. I’m not a good giver-upper. That could be an important thing to learn.

Can you relate to this? Are you stretching yourselves in ways that make you uncomfortable? Is it crazy to do so? I’d love to know what you’re learning about yourselves these days.

8 Comments

  1. Margo Pinkerton on November 5, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Diane,

    What wonderful blog. I used to love singing in the choir and looked at it as a musical form of expression rather than a link to a higher power who might not be particularly in tune with what’s happening in the world today (else, why would he allow genocide and other atrocities). Comments on religion aside, I think it’s great that you have found a new path. Hopefully, we all take ourselves outside our comfort zones. John, Arnie, and I are always doing it in photography, just as you are doing it in your writing and teaching. Well done, Lady!

    Take care,

    TBC

  2. Diane Chamberlain on November 6, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Thanks, Margo. Haven’t given up yet!

  3. Margo on November 6, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Another Margo!!…and my last name starts with ‘P’ also…
    Diane, clearly your experiences with the interfaith choir touched you in ways you never would have expected and I’m sure you miss the group immensely…I think it would be WONDERFUL if you could ‘squeeze’ just a few hours more into your week by continuing your passion of singing by taking lessons…you never know where it may lead and might steer you towards finding another interfaith choir in the Raleigh area (or maybe at Topsail)…you’re such a creative person and singing from your heart is like writing from your soul.
    The thing that I’ve learned about myself over the last couple of years is that I can’t do everything ALL of the time, but I CAN do everything I desire if planned out…I make a point to paint everyday and play piano at least a half hour each nite, sometimes more…as much as I’d love to be able to swim everyday, I know that there just are not enough hours in a day…so I plan 3 days a week and it’s a joy for me to look forward to those days when I feel free in the water…and that’s when I feel at one with ‘the divine’…I find a few minutes every morning to meditate and feel spiritual at this time too, right after my workout
    We may not be able to fulfill our creative passions everyday, but we certainly don’t have to give them up permanently…just find a schedule that will work.

  4. Joann on November 6, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Hi Di, I don’t mean to sound negative, you know that’s not usually me. as much as I love theater, and you know I do, there are times when I’m finished with a production and I simply do not have wonderful feelings and great insight from it. there are other productions that will stay in my heart and my soul forever I think. Not sure that that has to do with me or just the synergy of a group that I’m fortunate enough to be able to put together. They say that casting is 95% of the job of a director and I do believe that’s true. I think sometimes though a little magic happens, you may call it god or whatever you’d like, and somebody auditions that you may never have met before or seen onstage before and you’re lucky enough to cast them and you can’t even imagine how you would have done the show without them. I always look forward to every new production in the hopes that the experience will leave me feeling uplifted and was something special to the audience and my cast and crew. I know you feel that about your books too.(I do remember you swinging and swaying and that smile in your eyes, you really loved it.) Mosaic Harmony was an extraordinary experience for me as audience as well. I do hope you find this again. Maybe it will, as you get to know these new people better. Love you lots, Joann

  5. Diane Chamberlain on November 7, 2009 at 12:43 am

    Margo(s) and Jo, isn’t it great to have passions? We are so lucky!

  6. Margo on November 7, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Diane, what a wonderful comment from your sister Jo…she sounds delightful!!…I remember reading in 1 of your blogs a long time ago that she is a director…another great talent in your family.
    Yes Diane, we are so very lucky to have passions…sometimes I think and wonder if there are actually people who don’t??…I can’t imagine living in this extraordinary world and not feeling that kind of love for something.

  7. brenda on November 8, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    I am back to work but not back to normal…weak…the flu is horrible…even what I had…regular flu…I don’t usually get it until spring…Diane-I am like you-I don’t have enough time to do what I want to do. I am not going to teach college-which I love-next semester. I am going to concentrate on staying well and teaching high school-my real job…

  8. Diane Chamberlain on November 8, 2009 at 11:38 pm

    Brenda, I’m glad your’e recovering, but so sorry it’s been rough. I think you’re choice to focus on your health is a good one. Do as I say and not as I do!

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