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  • Scott Bowman

Singing for your life

I’ve recently become addicted to the television show “The Voice.” …actually, do we even have “television” anymore? I haven’t had a TV since puberty and everything is streaming in my pockets on my ipad-mini-kindlefire-android-air-google phone so I don’t know what the hell kind of show it is except I watch it on Hulu. Anyway, I’ve been really taken by it.


There’s something the coaches mention now and then that’s sticking in my head right now – it’s when a vocalist performs with their heart blown open and offered to the empty air. They call it “singing for your life.” It’s an apt description – because that’s what it looks like. Like if they don’t give every ounce of themselves in that performance they’ll wither and die on the spot. It’s like watching a flower blossom. It’s amazing.


You can be a brilliant performer and not do this. You can have flawless technique and amazing musicianship and even have passion and feeling and not do this. But the ones who do move you in ways the others never will. It’s been such a gift to see that, and feel it and notice that difference.


It has me wonder what singing for my life would look like. I’m not a singer or a performer (there are very few who can attest to this, but those who can will do so vigorously), so I don’t get to leave it all on the stage like that. But it has me thinking and wondering what is it in my life that I could care that much about, that would mean that much to master, that would be the way I show what the very best of me is.


And what is it that keeps me from doing that.


I was talking with a friend today about it, speculating on what would have some performers do that and others hold back.


I think the holding back is about fear of judgement – I can’t show you all of my heart, my imperfections, my quirks and oddities, because then I would have no place to hide and no way to escape your evaluation of my worth. It’s ironic if true. I will try to move you, but for fear of you, withhold the one thing that will accomplish that, and so increase the likelihood of being judged and thought less of.


But for those who are willing to expose everything they are to judgement, something magical is possible. Maybe they fear that judgement, probably they do – for all the noises we make to the contrary, I don’t know anybody who really, truly doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of them. But they want something else more than they fear that judgement. And one of the things they want is to move me.


I can’t get over how generous that is - to brave the random assessment of an uncaring stranger, something so many of us are actually terrified of, to move that same person in the deepest way they can.


We always hear that we shouldn’t regard the judgements others have of us, that we should know our own value independent of their opinions and be true to ourselves, We shouldn’t let it hurt or matter or change us when we’re judged.

Yes, and…


It’s fearful. It hurts. It matters.


So what happens when that imperative “Thou shalt not give a flying f$!@ about another’s judgement!” meets that fact that we can’t possibly not have it matter? We hold back. We hedge. We hide. We don’t give that last little bit that makes all the difference.


So what’s the trick then?


In the beginning of the movie Lawrence of Arabia, a young T.E. Lawrence is showing off a trick to a friend, snuffing a match with his fingers. His friend tries the same thing and drops the match saying “Oooh! It damn well hurts!"


Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.


Potter: Well, what’s the trick then?


Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.


Tell me, and I really want to know, if you could bear the judgment that went along with your learning, your efforting, your imperfections, your insecurities, if none of that bore any sting, what would singing for your life be for you?

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