Sunday, January 31, 2010

"I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free..."

This song has been in my head for days. This week has been very difficult for me and I wanted to write this second post today to give credence to emotions...which I don't typically do for myself.

As everyone knows, I sing. It's just what I've always done. Since I was little my parents were getting me to sing in churches and choirs, while begging me to stop singing in the car. When the walkman with headphones only made me sing louder (because I couldn't hear myself), they resigned themselves to letting me pick the music, or worse, gave me "Brain Quiz" cards that I used mercilessly on 14-hour car trips. Either way, it never seemed doubtful that singing would be a big part of my life.

I sang in Maranatha Touring Choir for 9 years of my life and they were by far some of the best times I have ever, and will ever be a part of. That choir showed me that my love for singing wasn't contingent on grades in school or being popular. Singing was something I did for myself and, more importantly, to worship the God who gave me the talent. The people I met through that choir are absolutely instrumental in shaping who I have been and who I still continue to become in my life. I will forever be indebted to them and to their contributions to me. I would have never thought that college would change the people I saw as central to my love of singing.

As amazing as those people did change all that.

When I first left for school I was elated. I had an amazing roommate, amazing friends, and I got to sing all of the time. What could be better, right? Wrong. I quickly became burnt out talking about music and longed for the escape of my room where I could sing crappy love songs and Disney music...or watch Moulin Rouge and sing the duets with my non-music-major roommates. As the CNU Chamber Choir grew, I found more in common with the people in my major and found them as solace too. After all, they understood the things we were all dealing with. Who else understands having 11 classes a semester and only getting 18 credits? But my biggest frustration with college music was that I felt like I sucked. Hah. I felt awful at singing at college. A lot of people had really incredible natural talent that made their voice unique. Or they had an incredible ear or were a sight-reading machine. I wasn't awful at those things, I just didn't feel like I would perform my whole life. I felt that even if I thought I would be fulfilled, I wouldn't be good enough. Lucky for me, God stepped in and blessed me with one of the most amazing people I have ever met in my life: Lisa Relaford Coston. In my first year and a half at CNU, Professor Coston's and my paths rarely crossed. She was typically a voice teacher to the musical theater majors and didn't have a lot of voice performance majors in her studio. When I switched to her, I immediately felt at ease. I felt like she was going to do whatever it took to figure out where I was comfortable and what I needed to be singing. She gave me repertoire that made me feel emotionally involved and stretched me to do things with my voice that I never thought possible. I had previously had male teachers, so nothing prepared me for her examples in our lessons. When she opened her mouth to demonstrate for me, I immediately felt inadequate. If you have never heard her sing, you can't possibly understand. Her voice was one of the most concrete pieces of evidence that I've ever seen/heard for God giving people a gift. While not a high soprano, and certainly no prima donna or diva, her voice commanded that people listen. After hearing her, your ears only craved more. She was a dynamic performer singing any repertoire, any dynamic, any time or place. Also, she was just plain wonderful. When I came to her with concerns about my physical comfort with my voice, she switched the range of my literature so that I felt comfortable. The greatest gift she gave me at that time, was her confidence in my new range. She told me that I could perform there and people would notice the difference. She told me that, even if I didn't make the choir again as a soprano, she was sure I would make it singing alto...and even more that I could be versatile because my voice sat well in a middle range. This made NO sense to me. I mean, who didn't want to be a soprano who was complimented? Well, I quickly found, I didn't. First and foremost, altos get the best parts. Secondly, there aren't as many mezzo stereotypes. :) More than that, I began to love singing. I couldn't wait for my voice lessons, even when I knew I hadn't practiced enough. There was no way to get that past her, but her support was unwavering.

As I grew and prepared for recitals, I realized that Lisa's belief in me was more than enough to carry me through, but that it wasn't enough for her. She truly wanted me to believe in myself. I still hated my voice A LOT (and still do now) but she constantly told me that she thought I could do more. She realized that my goals in life were different than those that revolve around the vocal world, but she constantly encouraged me to keep trying.

By this point she had also become the voice teacher for some of my best friends in the voice department. Chau, Greta, Bree, Tareva, Hannah and I loved Professor Coston and she became a comfort to all of us in both our lessons and our lives. As my senior year approached, Lisa and I realized that I needed extra time in my lessons because she had officially become my life coach. Hah. She and I would meet for lessons at times when she had empty space so that we could talk about everything. She shared so many words of wisdom and I'm so frustrated now that I didn't sit and write them all down. She taught me how to respond to people who are critical and how to encourage people who need help, although I openly admit I'm not as good at either of those as I'd like to be for her sake. My senior recital was a constant source of dread and anxiety from the moment that I started taking private lessons my freshman year. Studying under Lisa I realized that it was up to me to be prepared, but if I took initiative, she would train me and I would be ready. Hearing her say that she was proud of me and that she thought I was a different person on that stage was one of the best accomplishments of my life. To say that I did it on my own would be untrue, she was with me every step of the way, but she took none of the credit or glory that she deserved on that night or any other.

I realized immediately that it would be awful to not stay in touch with her and we started having "lessons" during my MAT year at CNU. I say this with quotation marks because after we sang 2 songs in one month, I realized I missed her companionship more than anything and we began just meeting to talk under the guise of a voice lesson. Those talks are times that I think back to often and cherish even more now than before. When we couldn't see each other we occasionally kept in touch via phone calls, but we always had to wait until weekends because we talked for 2 or 3 hours at a time. Needless to say, there were gaps in between calls. I always felt respect and esteem for Lisa. She was always one of the people I looked up to the most in the world, but I never felt that more than I felt this last year.

Getting divorced is by far the most difficult thing I've ever been through. The shame that has accompanied this journey for me has weighed me down and come back to haunt me when I thought I was rid of it. Because of this, it took months for me to call Lisa and tell her what was happening. When I did, we went to lunch and talked for hours. I could not have been more stupid in waiting to tell her. When I did, she offered her words of comfort and consolation, while never diminishing any of my feelings. She didn't offer platitudes, that wasn't her. She sat and listened and then, she shared her own stories. This was one of the most touching moments I had with her. She had maintained for so long a professionalism as my teacher, but I truly realized that day at lunch that she was my friend. For this I could not be more grateful. As usual, time lapsed before we contacted one another again and I regret still that I could not attend her faculty recital in November. But finally, I felt like I could be happy again about singing and I decided to try and return some voice books of hers this month after she got back into the semester. I was hoping that with her students' schedule set, she'd be able to find a regular-ish time to fit me in to talk, sing, or whatever. Unfortunately, my dear friend Chau called and told me that Lisa had a heart attack. We all sat refreshing web browsers of her carepage and texting or chatting on FB to see if anyone had heard updates.

Unfortunately this Wednesday, one of the most spectacular women I've ever known passed away. My biggest comfort is knowing that she is happy, free, and singing with the God who gave her her gift. I am truly indebted to her for so many things in my life. She gave me confidence, support, and a friendship I will cherish always.

I do apologize for the emotional content of this blog because it's not my normal blog. But for whatever reason when I wrote my earlier post, I felt like I needed to get it all out on "paper" before I let even more time pass without Lisa knowing how I feel about her. Blogs are heinously inappropriate public diaries anyway, right? :) Another good thing that came from Lisa, the friendships I have with the people coming back for her service this weekend. I can't help but look forward to reuniting with my friends and telling and hearing stories of her generosity, kindness, warmth, and love for all of us.

And if you've never heard her sing...

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