Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Soloist

"Why do you have to find an opportunity to get up and sing before an audience? Why can't you just be content to develop your voice and just sing at home in the living room? If you really love it, that should be enough?"

These have been questions asked of me by my dear husband at one time.

My first response to questions like these goes something like "I don't know, I just DO," or "Isn't it obvious that singing has to be heard by someone else?"

But the answers to these questions seem worth pondering, because the answers to these questions determine what course of action a person will take. What goals a singer will make, and how the singer will go about achieving those goals. The answers to WHY, can lead to WHAT. (And WHERE and HOW and maybe even HOW OFTEN and WHEN.)

Like all forms of expression, there seems to be an implication of that expression reaching another. Take a visual example. The example of a rose. What is the purpose for the exquisite beauty possessed by a single rose? I speculate that it has some biological purpose of attracting some insect for pollination, which would be of benefit to the future of roses. It fulfills the reason for that rose's existence. I'd have to turn to the science textbooks to answer the question in that utilitarian way.

But the pleasure that rose can give to an observer is so intense. Does the visual beauty exist for that reception of pleasure by the other?

I think of singing this way. Singing fulfills a need to connect with deep activity that is happening on my insides. It develops, expands, and brings to full blossom the communication system that is built into my body. If this mode of self expression blooms in my living room, is it like the rose that is blooming on the other side of the mountain where there are no villagers to see it?

There seems to be a "call" that some have to step out of the crowd and "solo." It is there from the root, from the very beginning. From the first "Happy Birthday" sung with the small group of children at the birthday party, there is in impulse to step out, to rise from the group with the individual voice.

When I see the little girl at church, who's been given a solo to sing by our church organist, step up to the podium and open her mouth to sing, I smile and think, "Oh, here comes another one!"

From the chorus of voices blending together, out of the group, from the uniformity of sound, arises the expression of the individual. Maybe it is this particular individual's personal need to develop her voice more strongly. Maybe it is a phenomenon about human individuality in general. The voices that emerge and stand alone are reminders of each and every one's individuality and the capability of the human person alone.

The balance between the group and the individual is something we are always trying to work out, within society, within our school systems, our governmental systems, our churches, our families. The harmony of the group, while maintaining the glory of the individual, without sacrificing the glory of each individual.

To me, the soloist, the solo voice, is part of this greater mystery. The questions about the importance of one's membership in a group and the importance of one's individuality and finding balance between the importance of each is reflected in singing modes. When a singer is in the choir, she must blend if there is to be harmony, but her needs may be to sing with her full voice, and in that case, her voice may not blend, and there may be a need to rise up and solo, apart from the group.

The group voice is powerful and serves a powerful purpose, but the solo voice has a different power and sometimes a different thing to say on behalf of the group. It says, "I am part of this group, but hear me alone too!" The solo voice arises in definition, in strength, in character and authority. It says, "Look what is present within this group. Do not cast aside this individual power!"

In a sense, I think this need of the soloist has always been representative of and an analogy of the individual's struggle with belonging to a human family. I think it's what our nation of America is all about. Exploring this relationship of developing individual human greatness and potential within the family of human people living together. How can we achieve great things together, and how can we achieve what fulfills us each individually? How can we live in harmony, while allowing for the fruit that this harmony will bear in the rising up of individuals?

What kind of government/structure is best to serve this need of balance between individual and group?

I love the format of a choir concert. The power of the group voice. The sound, and exhilaration from a sound, that no individual can make alone. The sense of belonging to something greater than one's self and making a contribution to a harmony that one cannot achieve alone. The blending of tones. An organized crowd, structured and chanting in unison. And yet there is no choir concert without a soloist. Why? Because there seems to be some unconscious acknowledgement that the individual voice must also be heard. The individual voice also plays a role in representing us all.

So, I have come to believe that there is a call for that individual voice. And it cannot be suppressed. It is going to come out one way or the other. The soloist demonstrates an ultimate version of the notion of "freedom of speech." That everyone matters. That what one does, all could potentially do. It is a voice of freedom and hope.

So, back to the beginning, why does a person have to solo? It is an inexplicable call, and the need to do it is strong and sometimes irrepressible. It is something that feels like it MUST be done in order to fulfill a calling from within. And yet, ultimately, what is given to the individual is given for the benefit of and as a service for all.

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