Saturday, May 31, 2014

Gifted Adults at Play - 1

When I was in my upper 50s, I decided to attend the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, which was (and is) held each summer in Fairbanks, Alaska, the last two weeks in July.  I had long been a member of various choruses, so I signed up for the mixed chorus and the women's chorus.

But, I also decided, for some strange reason, to sign up for Cabaret.  At the FSAF, Cabaret is a class where participants choose a song or songs, from a wide range of genres, to sing solo before an audience.  The class consisted of a 3 hour daily lesson for 2 weeks (not weekends) and performances at the end of each week.  Singers were coached in song interpretation, connecting to the audience, microphone use, and overcoming nerves.  The latter was my biggest hurdle, especially that first year.  I am a teacher, so I didn't expect that singing for an audience would be SO MUCH different from teaching - but it was.  The first time I sang my song in class, I was crying with nerves.  The first time I performed for an audience, my legs were shaking so badly, I wasn't sure I could remain standing.

I don't think that my first experience was too much different from other people's experiences, but one thing that held me back then and still now is that I am extremely analytical (just ask my kids) and judgmental.  The instructors of the class were VERY supportive and the other students in the class were, too.  My worst enemy was me.  People often say that you shouldn't compare your performance to that of others, that you should just relax and enjoy the process, that people are rooting FOR you, not judging you.  But I had a hard time turning that off with myself.  First of all, the idea is that you are learning something.  You have to do a certain amount of evaluation and judging, in order to know how to improve. 

So, how do you keep the judgmentalism and the analysis from paralyzing you and preventing you from trying something new?  Some people do so through family support systems.  But my husband knows very little about music or musical performance and my children are grown and far away.  Family support wasn't enough.  Luckily the instructors and fellow students helped, but it took a lot of courage for me to get through that first year. 

But somehow, the fact is that I did manage to do it and I've gone back for more - at least 6 years now.  And, two years ago, I took another big step.  At the age of 59, I signed up for the FSAF song-writing class.  I had always wanted to write a musical for children, but I started out just writing one song for me.  This class was only one week, but I did manage to write a song that wasn't too bad.  The class wasn't offered the next year and in the meantime, I had decided that writing songs required more talent than I had.

But then, I moved from Alaska to Colorado.  I decided to find a music outlet in Colorado.  I tried singing in a chorus, but I discovered that I really didn't like classical music quite as well as I thought I did.  And I especially didn't like memorizing the music, which the choir director encouraged.  It was time to branch out a bit.  I tried vocal music lessons and eventually, I decided to try writing music again.  This time, my goal was two-fold:  I wanted to write music that was ME (which is NOT especially popular right now) and I wanted to eventually write a musical for kids.

Since then, I have written dozens of songs and I did write the musical, which is now mostly finished - at least the part I envisioned writing.  I chose a book that I wanted to adapt and wrote the script.  Then, I wrote songs to go with various parts of the script.  I learned to write music on the computer, using Finale Songwriter.  It has been immensely fun.  My idea was to write the tune and the words, but lately, I have worried that I should have some sort of accompaniment - piano likely.  And now, I am stuck.  I know enough music theoretically to write an accompaniment, but each time I try to write one, I dislike the result. 

I am not good at dealing with adversity.  I didn't learn persistence as a child - why should I when everything came so easily to me?  It wasn't until college that I found out that people actually had to study and work at learning things.  To some extent, I have overcome that with this venture into writing music, but it is still an emotional challenge for me.

The other emotional challenge is trying to decide if the music I have written is any good.  I have now sung three of my songs for Cabaret.  Two of them were funny pieces - crowd-pleasers.  But the music itself wasn't very good.  I have written some other songs that are similar - funny, but unsophisticated music.  And now my analytical self kicks in again.  A lot of popular music isn't structurally sophisticated.  My music doesn't belong to any of the popular genres.  So is it any good?  I don't know.  I have gotten good feedback from my music teacher and a couple of my friends, but very few others. How important is affirmation?  More important than I care to admit. 

So, what does all this have to do with Gifted People at Play?  For me, this has been a kind of mania.  Now that the musical is at the stage where I would like someone else to do the final part, I am wondering if I should continue writing music.  How do people have the creative confidence to keep going when there is little confirmation of the work?  Why do I feel the need for outside affirmation?  What if only my music teacher and my friends think it is good?  Should I do it anyway?  What if there is no audience for the work?  Is it worthwhile to write something, even if no-one else cares about it? 

Is all of this questioning normal to the creative process?  Is it worse for gifted people?  I would love to see the musical performed somewhere, but the process of finding a group that is willing to try it seems overwhelming to me - and outside of my interest areas.

Is this play or not? 

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