Handling negativity: my secret weapon

I have always been very sensitive to negativity.

As a child, I tried to avoid all of its forms – criticism, taunting, words of dissatisfaction, or even any red marks on my homework assignments – by channeling all of my efforts into pleasing everyone around me. And whenever I couldn’t manage that, I kept my distance by hiding.

In between, I buried myself in novels written for children. Within the stories I read, I could count on conflicts to be resolved in satisfying way, on life make in sense.

Today, I still read plenty of fiction to help me cope with the negativity I encounter in my daily life.

However, I now have an even more powerful weapon to draw upon:

I simply attend a rehearsal with the LMU Choruses.

Last month, we plunged into two particularly difficult works, from composers Morten Lauridsen and Maurice Durufle, respectively. Both were full of intricate melodic lines, with constantly shifting rhythmic meters combined with unfamiliar Latin text. Numerous portions of their musical phrasing needed to be delicately handled. The Lauridsen work, in particular, contained many leaping intervals among all voice parts that made little sense when we first learned the parts.

The first few rehearsals of the semester, in which we initially read through these entire works were nothing short of overwhelming. I constantly lost my place, confused the current rhythmic meters, had trouble pinpointing the correct pitches at the end of leaping intervals, and generally had trouble keeping up.

Most of our January rehearsals were focused solely on taking individual vocal lines apart, apart, drilling their complex notes and rhythms. Without putting in any actual words yet, we plodded through a new section within each movement at every rehearsal. They all made little sense to me, and I had driven home afterward feeling as if no progress was made, and that we had simply wasted our time.

Finally, in early February, we began reassembling all of our voice parts and fitting them with piano accompaniment and singing through entire movements. Now that our individual vocal lines and rhythms were more familiar, fitting these lines together with those from other voices, hearing how we fitted into the context of the overall works – the effect was nothing short of magical.

While we still a good portion of the music yet to learn, could now start refining our vocal tones, coordinating them with musical phrasing and dynamics, shaping the pronunciations of vowels and consonants, and working on the balance between the lower and higher voices. Many dissonant chord clusters, particularly in the Lauridsen work – a trademark technique of its composer, are emphasized, even caressed, before they are resolved.

Taking a physical part in this transformation – from chaos to sense and order – wielded its usual powerful effect on me. At the end of these recent February rehearsals, I drove home with a buoyancy in my spirits – for they served as a forceful reminder:  My daily experiences in life may also seem full of difficulty, not making any sense. But, as in what I’d experienced while singing through our individual voice parts during rehearsal, I could now see that I had not yet achieved the larger picture surrounding them.

I was also reminded not to shy away from conflicts – whether they came in the form of impossible situations or difficult people.  Instead, just as we brought dissonances within our choral works out into the open, shaped them, and dropped them back into the context of the whole, I also needed to take apart individual pieces of each situation, focus on the aspects that I have some control over, and continue experimenting with adjustments that work for me.

When I then combine my situation with my surrounding circumstances, which are also changing, I need to then trust that my own understanding will deepen. And circumstances will also work themselves out, one way or another – the way our music always does through our many choir rehearsals.

For more details on the activities of the LMU Choruses, please take a look at the latest issue of my Quarter Notes newsletter. If you would like to be added to my mailing list, please let me know how to reach you through the “Contact Me” link at the top of this page.

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