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Singing is part of my identity. I have been singing for as long as I can remember. With a music teacher for a mother, and a father who is musically… enthusiastic, it was just natural. I sang in the children’s choir at church, which my mom accompanied. And I still remember my first solo performance — I sang “The Rose” in my 5th grade talent show.
From then on, I was always singing in choirs. My choir teacher in High School, Mr. Squires, was one of the biggest influences in my life. Beyond making music, he taught us about priorities and discipline and responsibility. Some people learned these things through sports, but I learned them in the choir room. That’s where I made friends and also had a ton of fun. I traveled to Europe for the first time with my High School choir, which began my love affair with exploring the world.
I especially remember Mr. Squires during concert week. Each spring he created a freestyle concert called “Celebration” that featured the school choirs as well as students performing solos and group numbers. It was a lot to coordinate, and we would practice every day after school until late in the evening during concert week. There were two things Mr. Squires told us during concert week. First, “drink until you pee clear.” So, all the choir geeks would walk around with water bottles during school drinking as much water as we could to stay hydrated. Second, “don’t get sick. If your body says its feeling sick, just tell it ‘that’s not allowed. You can get sick after the concert, but not this week.'” We pushed through the ups and downs, and created great concerts.
Singing has continued to be a part of my life in varying degrees. I joined a choir in college, took more voice lessons along the way, and when we moved to Milwaukee, the first thing I looked up was a choir to join. That is how I found my first job in Milwaukee as the Managing Director of the Bel Canto Chorus. I worked with wonderful people and talented musicians who continued to shape me as a person. And again, in Switzerland, joining the local choir was how I met people and stayed sane during the challenges of living abroad. Being in a choir is a familiar experience for me, and making music with other people breaks down cultural and language barriers like magic. It was like coming home.
Well, now it is concert week again. I am finally an official singing member of the Bel Canto Chorus, and my first concert is this Sunday. I’m drinking water like crazy! We have several nighttime rehearsals this week. But the biggest challenge this time is the piece itself. We are singing an a cappella symphony by Alexander Levine that is easily the hardest piece I have ever sung. It has tightly clustered chords and erratic rhythms. When we stopped having a piano to help us with our notes, it seemed we would never get it. It reminded me of a scene from the movie Shakespeare in Love when the performance of the play is threatened to fail:
“The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.”
“So what do we do?”
“Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.”
“I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”
I think all performers can relate to that. Heck, I think everyone can relate to that. When we face challenges, things do always workout eventually. I would argue, however, that we don’t do “nothing.” We still must put one foot in front of the other, take every step even though we don’t necessarily know where we will end up. And somehow, it all works out.
I am dedicating my performance in this concert to my mom, who gave me the gift of music and who is taking her own steps on a difficult path into the unknown. And though we are geographically distant, music still has the power to make me feel close to her. And I know she will be with me on Sunday as we strive to ensure that it “turns out well.”
My mom is sick. Really sick.
There are so many other things I wanted to write about. But my mom is sick.
It is so hard to think about it. I wasn’t sure if I should write about it. But, my mom is sick, and I find that I can’t write about anything else.
Last weekend, I went to Minnesota to be with my mom and dad. I found myself doing things for my mom that I am used to doing for my young children. Helping her get dressed, cleaned, and fed. At this stage, it is like our roles are reversed. I am now mothering my own mother. It is as though, in the circle of life, she is getting closer to where she started out. It is true that we end very near to where we begin. And maybe that’s what this is about — endings and beginnings.
For the last 8 years, my mom has dedicated much of her time to being an amazing mother and grandmother. She watched and held babies whenever she could. She took grandkids to music classes. She travelled to Switzerland for the express purpose to play with her grandchildren. She often stayed back with the youngest grandchildren while the older ones went on to bigger things with the other adults. I think that was her favorite role.
As a mother and as a teacher, she has always had an affinity to small children. I’ve often thought she is like a kid at heart. Playing and singing and watching for hours, after most other adults would have gotten bored or gone crazy.
She can no longer do those things.
It is, at least for now, the end of another stage of life. She is no longer the babysitter, the hostess, or the traveler she has been. But, an ending also means a new beginning.
Right now, it is difficult to accept, not to mention embrace, this new beginning. Partially that is because we didn’t choose this situation, and also because we don’t really know what the new situation is. Between each ending and beginning is that nasty thing called transition. That’s where we are stuck right now… in transition.
Transition is hard. It means change. It means uncertainty. It means waiting for time to tell. It means adapting to what each day brings.
It’s been several months, and we still don’t really know what is wrong. The doctors don’t know. And perhaps that is the biggest frustration — not knowing. But we live in hope, and also in fear, that maybe the next doctor, or the next appointment will bring some answers.
At least with knowledge, we can embark on a new beginning.