“Yesterday, while I was vacuuming my house,” Jackie Hawley said, “the truth came to me.”
Hawley is the Artistic Director of Cantiamo Choirs of Ottawa, a group that uses our church as a practice facility. She was invited to speak to us about her purpose and the work of the choir, and she told us that when she first started thinking about what to say, she focused on the music education, the performances, and the work in the community.
Then she vacuumed.
The repetitive physical act that required only muscle memory and no mental exertion opened her mind and invited inspiration. Her vacuuming body and open mind allowed her to realize that her purpose wasn’t really the education, the performances or the community work. They were all part of it, sure, but there was a deeper truth.
“I love through bringing music and beauty into the world,” she said.
She realized the truth about her purpose in life by cleaning her house.
Some people say they do their best thinking in the shower. Same idea. I once received a story idea while stirring cooked pudding. Many writers go for long walks every day for the same reason.
Body movement that doesn’t require mental exertion allows the mind to open to ideas, truths, plot resolutions or comforting thoughts.
Suddenly, I feel an urge to do some vacuuming . . .
That was the question asked of the children gathered at the front of the church. All of them nodded. Yes, eating an apple was an easy thing for them to do.
“Could you always do that, or did you have to learn?”
Roxanne Goodman, a performance instructor in popular voice with Carleton University, started her presentation with those questions. I think she wanted all of us — children and adults — to think and learn and honour our potential.
Every day she works with people who tell her they want to develop stronger, more beautiful voices. The problem is, she says, that those same people don’t have a good perception of their voice at the time.
In other words, they want to “eat an apple” but they haven’t yet, and they’re sure they’ll never do it as well as Ella Fitzgerald, Lady Gaga, or Elton John.
She shared a story from her own life to help us on our path to understanding. When she was a young woman she sang a solo in her church. After the performance a gentleman said to her, “You have such a beautiful voice.”
“It’s okay. It’s all right,” she replied.
Hearing that, he said, “Tell me, am I the only person who’s ever said this to you?”
“Oh no, people tell me that all the time.”
“Do you think that we are all lying to you?” he said.
After that she asked herself: if she was wrong about her ability as a singer, what else was she wrong about? What else could she do that she was telling herself she couldn’t do?
She started from there, with a new belief that she had a beautiful voice. She studied to learn the technical aspects and how to get the emotion out.
She made lots of mistakes and learned from those too.
She believes that anyone can learn to sing from their true voice if they do two things:
Appreciate what they already have; believe in the beauty of their voice.
Sing from the depth of their being, their essence.
She pointed out that Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t say we must do the thing we cannot do, but the thing we think we cannot do.
We sometimes think our way out of facing fears and opening ourselves up to the next step.
We can also think our way to our true self.
I apply Roxanne’s lessons to writing: appreciating the beauty of my writing voice, learning the technical aspects and how to get the emotion out, making lots of mistakes, and allowing myself to be vulnerable enough to let my readers see me.
Can you eat an apple? What else can you do that you’ve been telling yourself you can’t?
If you were to ask a random sampling of people, “What do you think about bagpipes?”, you would rarely hear, “Meh, I can take them or leave them.” People either love them or hate them.
I love them.
This is lucky for me. As I write this piece, I’m sitting on my back deck listening to my next-door neighbour practise his bagpipes. The haunting notes waft through the air to me here in my peaceful place. Chills, it gives me.
I harbour the quiet belief that anyone who says they hate bagpipes has never heard a massed band play “Amazing Grace.” In the 1990s I covered the North Lanark Highland Gamesmany times for Rogers TV. When all the competing pipe bands assembled on the last day to march and performed together in a massed band, I cried every time. Chills, it gave me.
On my birthday last year I awoke to a warm, sunny day. I took the paper and my coffee to the front porch to enjoy the morning just as my next-door neighbour stepped out his front door to prepare himself for a pipe band competition. He played a perfect version of “Scotland the Brave.”
I soaked up the performance. “What a perfect birthday present,” I thought. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
My teenaged daughter, disturbed from a Saturday morning sleep-in, appeared at the door. Bleary-eyed she said, “What is up with that awful noise?”