Monday, December 19, 2011

Music and Love

"The total person sings not just the vocal chords." ~ Esther Broner

"Singing is a way of escaping. It's another world. I'm no longer on earth." ~ Edith Piaf

Every year my church has a Christmas Cantata. Last year, our Cantata was going to be my first concert as I had just joined the choir about six weeks prior to the performance. A good friend of mine, Kathy, was a long standing member of the choir at that time and had encouraged me, despite many physical obstacles, to join the choir as she knew my passion for singing. Tragically, my dear friend died suddenly on December 17th, two days before our performance. It was a very difficult time to say the least. The cantata was a blur. My clearest memory of the event that day was the effort I, and the rest of my choir members, had to make to keep from crying while we were singing that morning.

One year has passed since that terrible week and another Christmas Cantata has arrived. I was looking forward to making new choir memories that were not steeped in so much sadness during this holiday season. This year, my boyfriend, Chuck, and I had the opportunity to sing a duet of the popular Christmas song Mary, Did You Know? I had never sung it before and I knew it might be a challenge because I had never even heard it sung by someone else.

Chuck was going to play the guitar as well. He found the chords online and we slowly started to put together a melody and harmony that we thought would work. The process became very interesting to me as the days and weeks went along. Anyone who knows me is aware that I have struggled to overcome a lot of my Type A tendencies in an effort to lead a more relaxed and fulfilling existence. When we were first putting the song together, I would drive Chuck crazy with all my questions about if we should do it more like this person or that person; or if we should do it more like how they do it on this YouTube video or that one.

He was so patient with me. What I learned from him as we went along was that as long as we both felt comfortable, liked the way it sounded, and FELT the music, nothing else really mattered.  All of a sudden there were no rules, no guidelines. We didn't have to do the song as others had done it before us. We could make it our own.

About ten days before the Cantata, I had a very sudden and severe respiratory flare-up from the autoimmune disease I have. It was the worse I had experienced in a year and a half and it was one that would typically land me in the emergency room or worse yet, in the hospital. I really did not think I would be able to be well enough to sing at all on Cantata day. And I was upset, really upset. With the exception of a four week respite from my symptoms following a steroid injection, I was dealing with symptom flare-ups constantly and I was sick of it. It seemed like almost every time I tried to accomplish something that was important to me, I also had to contend with a medical crisis. The timing of this particular flare-up was horrendous because it was going to interfere with something I had poured my heart into. I tried to sit back and take the attitude of "it is what it is" but that only lasted about a day or so. I needed to get myself well enough to sing. I didn't want to cheat Chuck or myself out of this experience together. I didn't want to let my fellow choir members down.

There is something to be said for all the learning I have done to regards to managing this autoimmune illness. I talked to my pulmonologist and my acupuncturist and decided to step up my acupuncture treatments a bit and more importantly, go back to taking Chinese herbs. I called my speech therapist from a year and a half ago and she talked me through the techniques we had gone over at my previous appointments. I restarted the speech therapy at home with a vengeance. I doubled my effort to relieve some of the dryness caused by the Sjogren's which I knew was making the situation worse.

Forty-eight hours and I was better, much better and as the days went by, my breathing not only improved, but my voice got stronger. I was diligent about protecting my vocal cords because I knew I was not yet 100%.

I should know better than to get too comfortable with my body when I do not have my illness under control. Two days before the Cantata and I noticed it was painful to eat. I looked in my mouth and saw that my inside right cheek was ridiculously swollen. From looking at it, it appeared I was having another flare-up of my parotid gland with a likely infection. I was also having terrible headaches and sinus pain with nasal discharge that also looked infected, which of course was affecting my voice.

After hours of trying to get a hold of my rheumatologist on a Saturday (I found out today that they don't have weekend/night coverage), I just said to hell with it. I knew I had an infection and probably inflammation as I had been through this once before. I started myself on steroids and antibiotics which I luckily had extra supplies of at home.

Twenty-four hours later, Chuck and I sang that song.
And we sang it well.

Shocking considering I have, guess now I can say "had", terrible stage fright. I had never sung with just one other person before. Usually I sing with a whole group of people and even that sometimes leaves me a little rattled. When Chuck and I ran through the song at choir rehearsal several days before the performance, I was responsible for holding our music because he was playing the guitar. My hands shook so bad when we rehearsed that we decided to use a music stand instead because otherwise he couldn't follow the page with the words shaking all over!

That day that we sang that song though, I didn't shake at all. Because this time, I looked at him while we were singing. I focused on him and the beautiful music that was coming from his heart. In those two and a half minutes, it was just him and I; not in a church with a LOT of people, but in the safe refuge that we call home.

There was something incredibly special about singing that song with Chuck. I know this sounds corny, but it truly has brought us closer together. We each have had more on our plates than usual lately which has resulted in a lot of stress and sleepless nights. Although I think we do well with supporting each other, practicing this song together night after night was a different way of supporting each other's wellbeing and sanity. We had a common goal that didn't involve job stress, health stress, financial issues, or relationship issues.

It was just us and the music.

It was our way of honoring Kathy.
It was our way to honor the upcoming birth of Jesus.
It was our way to give to the loving church community that we are involved with.
It was our way to give to each other...

Not just music, but love as well.

Mary, Did You Know?

Photo Courtesy of Google Images


  1. I would say that the author of this piece is excitingly defined by her music...among other things.

  2. Christine, what a beautiful post. I love to sing, too, and I also sang in my church choir for a few years. I'm like you used to be...never would or could sing with just one other person, or do a solo....yikes! Congratulations on overcoming your fears. And what an awesome boyfriend you have! I wish you had a video of the two of you singing!

  3. Thank you Becky! As luck would have it, there is a video of Chuck and I singing. It under the December post called "Music and Love". At the bottom of the entry is a link to a You Tube video of us singing at our Christmas Cantata. The first few seconds of the video are missing but most of it is there.