Some of the folks who are providing references for grad school for me shared what they sent the admissions committee. This is humbling and glorious—it’s seldom one can discover how one seems to other people. Asking them point-blank never seems to yield results; I’ve tried on multiple occasions.
At this stage in the game that is my life, I also find satisfaction in seeing through their eyes how some of the qualities/skills I’ve chosen to work on over the years have shown up. For example, I fell in love with group facilitation when I was 15. Being able to help a group articulate what it knows and to together discover more than when they gathered exhilarates me. And I think, after all the years of practice, that I do it well…
…but people will tell you a lot of things to your face that might or might not be the full, rounded truth.
But when one of my folks, in describing my academic abilities, noted:
…the work together was always the better from her participation and unstinting preparation. She was able to show less gifted and less able students how to participate without cowing or discouraging them…
I thought: I’ve done it. Because these observations were gleaned nearly 20 years ago.
When the driving perfectionist who is our worship leader first arrived on staff, I was leery. Not professionally: she’s amazing, has always been amazing, and whatever she sets out to deliver arrives in exquisite shape… and generally with extra sprinkles.
I was leery interpersonally. As a singer who is comfortable helping lead worship, I had observed her in other contexts, and found her astringent. On the other hand, one of my bestest friends, with whom I was then routinely singing a capella worship music, had leapt into serving in our contemporary ensemble, towing me along.
My friend, another person (who has a wonderful vocal instrument), and I dove in. The music was challenging, the rehearsals stimulating in their combination of precision and approximation. (Most contemporary worship music is not written for three-part harmony. Not in sheet music form, anyway.) I sing the low part, but regardless of where any of us landed, we three would build chords that at the same time had three tones and only one sound.
Our blend was amazing.
A couple of months into this, our worship leader* caught me in the hall. “My girls have been listening to our rehearsals.” (Young women then in their middle teens, they were naturally in and around all the time.) “One of the days you three were practicing, they told me, ‘Mom, that’s your dream team. They sound fantastic.'”
I was pleased, as was intended, but I surprised myself with an internal reservation. My friend has a solo-quality voice, and often sang soprano-range solos. Our compatriot has a solo-quality voice of impressive range, and sang all the other solos. I don’t think I have quite the voice to offer it alone, and anyway have yet to be asked to do so in the forty-plus years I’ve been a choir person. (I don’t know how to articulate it. My voice on its own sounds a little… plain?… and somehow not full enough.)
What I can do, and have done since I was in high school, is create a sound that fills in the right nooks and crannies so that disparate voices become a gorgeous whole.
[*BTW, I’m thoroughly over my leeriness; she’d mellowed even by the time we started working together; she’s now a good friend.]
This past Sunday, I was singing ‘my’ parts in the pew, listening to the whole and working to balance the sounds within it. I was watching my friend lead, as is my habit, slowing and shifting as she did.
I thought about my academic (and other!) group activities, listening, slowing, shifting, speeding up, routing around.
Look at that. From my outsides to my insides, I make things blend.