Do the Thing You Cannot Do

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“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Man, I love inspirational quotes. Especially the line above by Eleanor Roosevelt, who was an extraordinary woman of any time, let alone the era when she lived. One of these days I will read her biography.

There is more to the quote than I share above: in the bigger context, it seems to me that she was talking more about facing tragedy head-on and forging ahead even though everything inside of you may be screaming to shut down and shun the world.

But when I read that shorter quote above, I hear Eleanor talking about fear and courage. There is so much to be said about fear and courage, right? Including how it seems like fear has run amok in people these days. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Fear can be helpful. It can steer you away from danger as we all know. However, fear can cause us to lead very small lives. Lives where we are afraid of new people, new ventures, new foods, new anything. Lives where we don’t know our neighbors. Lives where we never try new things or give old things a second chance.

It’s so easy to cocoon in our safe zone. But this reminds me of another quote, author unknown:

“Some one once told me the definition of Hell: The last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.”

I need to make sure the person I am on that last day of earth is a full-fledged singer.

Today I get back on a stage to sing jazz for the first time in 10-11 years. My two youngest kids have never seen me do something like this. I’m not even sure they understand that’s how their parents met.

I’m a little nervous about it. The gig really belongs to my husband, the “real” jazz musician, a percussionist. He’s the one who loves and has been playing this music for nearly 40 years. I’m just a pretend jazz singer.

I have a decent enough voice to where I won’t make a fool of myself, but the first time I tried singing jazz was when I met him about 17+ years ago. Singing with a group was something I had wanted to do for years. The music didn’t have to be jazz, but there is something classic, elegant, and wonderfully improvisational about the art form that is appealing to me. However by the time I gave it a whirl in my early 30s, I found I had become a bit more comfortable as an introvert, not an entertainer charming an audience. I can do it. I’ve done it. But it gets harder, not easier, as I age.

And gigging with my husband and his trio is altogether different. Jazz musicians are over-the-top talented.

See, any jazz artist worth his salt can play any tune, in any style, in any key, at the drop of a hat. They don’t need to rehearse. They just wing it right there on stage, and it sounds amazing. That’s the beauty of the art form.

I’m not that kind of artist.

I am a wee bit more…structured. I have a very low vocal range, which means nothing I sing is performed in the key most people recognize for a given song. And I’m not good enough to just wing it however the group wants to play the song. I kinda need to know what to expect. Predictability is a good thing. As the vocalist, like it or not, all eyes are on YOU. You better be comfortable up there in the spotlight and be having a good time or the audience will sense it, and the fear inside you will spread to them.

I watched it happen a couple of times I had no business being behind a microphone. Eww…those were shameful moments! At least I’ve had a forgiving audience.

I suppose I’m what jazz musicians might call high maintenance! But I do know that I sound better than most of the vocalists my husband has hired in the past. I heard a truly cringe-worthy, unrecognizable “Over the Rainbow” once and told my husband he needed to be an instrumental trio from now on. And he was for years and years, until now.

Having given a lot of thought about fear, and about how one should not hide their talent under a bushel, I’m taking the plunge tonight. It’s time to chuck fear to the curb and give this a whirl.¬†Three songs in front of hometown crowd. Baby steps.

Our city hosts a “Jazz Under the Stars” series in the summer time and the average attendance is 500 people. Could be cool. It’s been a very long time since I’ve sung for a crowd that large. Frankly the more people the better. And the weather this July evening is flat-out perfect, so we could get a few more out to see us perform.

My husband is really the star of the show. I’m doing this to support him. But I’m also doing this because I have pretended long enough that I cannot.

What fear do you need to chuck to the curb? I dedicate my performance tonight to you.

Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash