Last week, a parent of a voice student of mine posted an amazing clip of her daughter singing a solo from her school choir holiday concert. She and I had worked on the solo a week earlier. The word she sang in Swahili was “Amani,” and it was a big solo, and thankfully, the singer has an amazingly big voice. Here’s the quote:
“What joy Finneghan and the entire choir's singing brought to this Mama last night! A special shout out to Jennifer Lobo who worked with Finn on this song and guided her to think of a word right before she starts singing to remind her that is it an offering for the audience. Finn chose "give" as her mantra. Also, thanks to her chorus teachers Mrs. Swank and Mrs. Haldeman.”
I wanted to let the student know that having a big voice is already an amazing gift that she has been given. People will listen and recognize it as so, just because of its power and beauty. But in a performance setting, it’s not about the singer.
It’s about honoring the music and the collective experience of giving and receiving between the audience and the singer. It’s not about “I hope I get this solo right, I hope I nail the note right, I hope the audience likes me.”
Instead, it’s about giving.
When I was about 22 years, as I was coaching for my audition for grad school, that’s what my acting coach taught me. She taught me to give every single time. Give to the audience. Give over to the words, the music, the honor of the artform, the meaning of the words. As a performer/singer/actor/whatever, if we always come from a place of giving, the audience will receive that. When they receive it from that perspective, it will become more meaningful, impactful, real, and have a lasting impact. Not because of how impressive it was, but because of how it “touched” us. I have seen this truth over and over in my life, and what the magic can do when you truly bring meaning to the moment.
This young singer did “nail” the moment, because she gave of herself in a way to the audience where they felt something authentic and real. It was amazing and beautiful. And her solo, “Amani,” in Swahili, means peace. She brought peace to those hearing her voice that night.
When the audience receives this truth, they are left feeling satiated and whole. They have been given this beautiful gift from the performer. The audience, in turn, gives their thanks back to the performer in applause or smiles or cheers and the performer feels that energy given back to them and receives it:
This amazing energy loop of giving and receiving.
And suddenly, the idea of community and art and connection swims the energy into the air surrounding everyone (whether the audience numbers are 8 or 80 or 800) and we all feel connected for a moment. And we feel satiated. We feel full. Like a beautiful home cooked meal. We go home after the performance and feel thankful.
When something is given and shared without this truth, it feels false and fake. Like when you eat a candy-laden, empty-calorie, mass-produced, consumable. It looks really pretty, but it feels very empty, and leaves us feeling confused. Wasn’t that supposed to be enjoyable? Why do I still feel empty?
I have been thinking a lot about giving and receiving this year. As a mother, a teacher, and now, a business owner, I am doing a lot of giving. And I try, very hard, to practice what I preach,” to give and not try to “get.” because I know in the giving I will end up receiving what is analogous. And so far, it has, and it is beautiful. I am thankful for it each day.
And sometimes, all that giving can get very, very tiring. If I am not careful, I can become very depleted. The giving and receiving loop can get dried up, and sticky, and sicken me like that awful tasting piece of unsatiating candy.
And so, I give myself the time to retreat, rest, and restore. If I do not, I won’t have anything to give at all to anyone.
Retreat, rest, and restore. This is the purpose of the darker days in the winter. Giving myself the permission not to run around and not get everything I need to get done.
And so when I think of all of the wonderful festivities coming up in the week ahead, I want it to be authentic. I yearn for it to be real, and yet, I have to remind myself:
(disclaimer for the word Christmas being used ahead: feel free to exchange it whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, or just New Year’s Eve!)
Christmas will come whether or not everything is wrapped and in the right place.
Christmas will come whether or not my house is clean for the guests.
Christmas will come and remind us that the giving and receiving doesn’t have to happen in the perfect bow-wrapped gift. The damaged, reused gift bags from last year are enough.
The magic really will come, when we simply look in each other’s eyes, and give of ourselves in that moment.
We already have enough. We are already enough. And the person you are giving a gift to will receive that. And if they are courageous enough, they will give of themselves right back, and that will be enough as well. And we can all sit in the magic of that moment, receiving the beautiful energy swimming around in air.
And that is my wish of the season. Amani: Peace.
Jennifer Lobo. December 2019