But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.
(Robert Frost, “Two Tramps in Mud Time”)
This was supposed to be “Do What You Love.” I was driving home earlier this week after meeting with my brand-new bosses about scheduling, which invariably turns into a mission statement meeting any time electives and the arts are involved, thinking about how nice it is that I get paid to do something I truly love. My parents and grandparents didn’t have that luxury, and I dare say that most people don’t really get up in the morning because they are excited about going to work.
So I was going to write about how we cope, and how we make a living with the things we do. When I was landscaping, for instance, I didn’t get out of bed and don my Carhartts because I loved plants, dirt, bugs, and sweat. I loved doing something useful for people I liked. I loved filling a niche, and I loved that I could make a living out of doing meaningful work.
Maybe the real reason I didn’t get around to writing “Do What You Love” this week, though, is because it would seem disingenuous in a couple of ways. First of all, when I get paid to do what I truly love to do—when I’m paid to teach music—I realize that I am so much luckier than most people. It’s easy for me to write about doing the work that I love because I actually get to do it. But the second reason I probably didn’t write it, ironically, is because I lost the last full-time teaching job I had. It still stings. It still scares me. I start a new job tomorrow, and I have been anxious about it for weeks. On top of that, I am doing a new show this fall with a director I haven’t met, and I’m anxious about that, too. Because of what happened in my last job, and despite all I know in my heart about what really happened in that job, there is still a little voice that whispers, “Maybe you’re not good enough.”
Despite all of that fear and stress, though, the real irony here is that the last fifteen months—the months of unemployment, the months that should have been the worst of my life—were some of the happiest, most fulfilling times of my life.
I can’t begin to name all the individuals involved in this incredible season, so I would be foolish to try it. I wish I could—I really hope that you know who you are.
Tonight, though, I have to write about the show that just closed. Lately I’ve found myself saying, “This is the best show I’ve ever done.” When you say that, even to yourself, more than once, you have to question the validity of the statement. Is it really that good, or am I getting swept up in the emotion of it? I said that about the show I did with a bunch of wildly talented teenagers I did last fall, too. (And yes, they are wildly talented, and I did mean it.)
What made this last show so hard to leave? There were a lot of things about it, but the choreographer really pinned it down for me a few weeks ago. I knew her through Facebook for at least a year before I met her last summer in person, but until this year I had never worked with her myself. She is truly exceptional in a lot of ways. She sings and acts as well as she dances, but she is also good with people, good at managing time, good at making her ideas work with a particular show and a particular cast. Given my level of respect for her, I was honored when she complimented me on the notes I gave the cast. The thing that she said that mattered most to me was that she could tell by the notes I gave them that I really loved them.
That floored me, and it touched me deeply. I have never been good at taking compliments. I just spew off what comes to mind when someone says something nice to me. In classic awkward form, I told her, “I’ve figured out that a show is more fun when I love the cast.”
Although I wish I could have put that a bit more eloquently, I think I told the truth. If I’ve learned one thing about being a musical director, it’s that I will never get what I want out of a singer if I can’t love him/her in the process. This is particularly true of amateur singers. No matter how much they love their own voices in the car or in the shower, most singers are really insecure when they are singing alone on a stage. So much of singing is what goes on in the head and heart; if that’s not in the right place, then it doesn’t matter what happens in the larynx. Most singers don’t love themselves at all, and they certainly don’t love the show tunes that give them fits. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s my job to make them love themselves and love the song. They can’t do that if I don’t learn to love them. (I always feel bad that I don’t do more to help some of the more talented cast members, but they just don’t need me as much!)
The outcome of this method should be obvious. If I fail at my job (and I have failed many, many times) then the music isn’t as good. But if I succeed—oh, even if I succeed at one little note at a time!—what a blessing it is. People ask me why I smile so much during shows. It’s because I celebrate every note that goes well.
And have you figured out the very best part? Do you know why my heart is so full even though I just said goodbye to one of the most beautiful, glorious, wonderful casts I’ve ever had? It’s obvious, isn’t it? Loving someone is its own reward. It doesn’t come back empty, whether the beloved is a great singer or not.
In the next week I’m sure I’ll spend embarrassing amounts of time looking at pictures of the Pontipees, their brides, and the townsfolk of that unnamed little Oregon town because I love them. Thank you for letting me into your hearts, for trusting me, and for loving me right back. You’ve given me much more than I could ever give you.