It is never about how good your voice is; it is only about feeling the urge to sing, and then having the courage to do it with the voice you are given.
Ruth Ann and I shared a love of choral singing. We both sang in choruses years ago. Then adult life kept each of us from that passion. When I retired, I joined the community college chorus for a couple of semesters, and got to sing in the Verdi Requiem. When Ruth Ann moved to North Carolina, she got to sing in the community performance of The Messiah for two Christmas seasons.
We also shared wonder for the transcendent experiences that joining voices in song will create. I understood her experience of feeling as though she was singing with every choral director she’d ever known as she sang The Hallelujah Chorus. She understood my experience of Verdi opening a portal between worlds with the music of his Requiem.
I didn’t make it to Ruth Ann’s The Messiah performances. The first year I was sick. Last year an ice storm threatened and I was afraid to travel. I thought I would get to go “next year.” Now, there won’t be a next year. This year, I’ve learned not to count on one.
I was playing harp for my friend Roxann’s memorial service when a choral conductor asked if I would like to sing in this year’s performance of Sing For The Cure®, a song cycle about people affected by breast cancer. I knew nothing about the music, but figured that if I can sing the Verdi Requiem, I could manage to sing this.
And I can. We’ve been rehearsing since the end of June. The conductor broke down the 10 songs into manageable chunks that make the music accessible. I can play the alto parts on my recorder, so I can work on my lines outside of rehearsals. While I have pretty good relative pitch, I know that the chances of me finding and singing a B-flat or a C-sharp out of context is pretty slim. But my strategy for Verdi success – to be in the midst of altos who are spot on with initial pitches – still works.
Being a part of this production is full of gifts. Singing with 100 other voices is amazing, thrilling, and beautiful. These joy-filled sounds, and being a part of making them, creates light and heals dark places in my heart. I’ve cried thinking how much Ruth Ann would love this work. I’ve cried from missing her and from her not being here to hear it. And I’ve remembered how happy and excited she would be for me to be singing, and how much she would like these songs, and felt her presence close by in the remembering.
The music and the lyrics are so full of hope and determination that someday soon, this disease will be eradicated, and until then, no one will ever have to walk this path alone. There lies healing I didn’t expect and didn’t know I needed. This year marks my 40th anniversary as a cancer survivor. I was 22 years old when I was diagnosed with cervical and uterine cancer. Although for the rest of her life my mother denied having taken any medication while pregnant with me, twenty years later my aunt disclosed that after multiple miscarriages my mother took DES.
In 1974, mentioning a cancer diagnosis could clear a room faster than dog farts. People acted as though cancer was contagious. My talking about having cancer put them at risk of getting it.
Friends disappeared. My mother drank. My boyfriend stopped touching me. There weren’t many who could stare down their own fears enough to be able to help me with mine. There were no organizations or groups to support cancer patients, and no internet to research treatment options. There was no networking of patients and survivors, and no ribbons pinned to collars and lapels. I walked this cancer path silently and alone.
The songs in Sing For The Cure® create a different reality, one where promises are kept, and hope is alive, and no one has to face cancer alone. A world where silence is banished as 100 voices sing:
I am one voice; I will not be silent
’til my song is sung around the world
You have only begun
to hear the power of one
I will keep on singing ’til I’m heard.
We are one voice; we will not be silent
We will keep on singing ’til were heard
We are one voice; we will not be silent
’til our song is sung around the world
Let the music begin
and let hope live again
We will keep on singing ’til we’re heard.
WE will keep on singing ’til our work is done
We will keep on singing ’til the race is won
We will keep singing ’til the ribbons that we wear
wave like banners of life in the air!
We have one life; one choice; one hope
We are one voice!
Through Music’s magic the songs I sing this summer can go back in time and heal the heart of the scared young woman I was forty years ago. And forty years on, that young woman is neither scared nor alone. She has a community of people and songs that share her experiences, reflect and acknowledge her feelings, and honor her survival.