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I used to say that music was in my blood…

Until it bled me dry.


I used to sing. A lot. All the time. In the car, at home, with friends… I’d literally get together with people – those I knew and those I didn’t – to do nothing but sing. I practiced singing – I had to work at it – when I was alone, just so I could perform better. Whether or not I could hit the notes, I’d try and try and try again – probably to the dismay of my long-suffering parents, particularly when I couldn’t quite reach the high notes. I fronted bands, sang karaoke, provided background vocals. From the time I was about twelve, you’d find me gathered around the piano at summer camp with my friends, or walking down whatever hallway singing songs I liked – and every now and then songs I couldn’t stand but couldn’t get out of my head. During free periods in high school – when I didn’t have homework to do – I’d sit on a bench in the hallways and play my guitar, because of course it came with me to school even on days I didn’t have guitar class. I wrote music, for those times when merely speaking words wasn’t enough and I had to express my fear, faith, anger, pain, hope, or what I thought was love. When I was sixteen, I taught myself the guitar, scraping raw the fingers on my left hand and making it impossible to read braille for months. I fell back in love with the piano in Bible college because there were too many guitarists and no one else would play the piano. Between classes at that Bible college, I’d sneak into the chapel for a few moments of solace, where the music from that old out-of-tune upright would mingle with my voice, echoing slightly in the empty room. I’m glad I didn’t know until years later that people would sometimes sneak in and listen. I would have stopped playing if I’d known.


I used to say music was in my blood…

Until it bled me dry.


I remember the exact moment when I made the decision to step back from performing – even though I didn’t realize that decision would remain steadfast for over a decade. I was standing in a church in La Crete, Alberta, singing a song while combating a terrible cold. My voice was hoarse, and I was thrilled that no one I knew – beyond my Bible school classmates – could hear me like this (and maybe not even them). I remember thinking “No one knows me beyond the fact that I can sing and play… I can’t do this anymore.”


Over the next few months – that eventually turned into nearly twelve years – I jammed a few times with classmates, played alone on that old upright in the chapel, but I don’t remember singing and playing publicly much after that. I did karaoke with friends once or twice over the years, but that felt awkward to me. I jammed a handful of times with friends on the piano I insisted Ben and I buy when we bought our house, but the house was never filled with music the way we hoped it would be. I played a piano here and there, wrote a song a couple people I trusted heard and liked (eight years after that church service in La Crete), and made some noncommittal noises about joining a friend any time he asked or cajoled or badgered me to go for a jam (he always asked again)… But I was done, burned out, had nothing… Music had let me down. It had taken me in and spit me out and I wasn’t ready for the merry-go-round again.


I used to say that music was in my blood…

Until it bled me dry.


I haven’t written a complete song in over three years. And before that, I hadn’t written one in seven. It’s not that I had nothing to say – in fact, I’ve had a lot to say – but I feared what I would say, what I would have to acknowledge to myself if no one else. And I felt that I could never find the time and space to explore new musical frontiers without feeling the unintentional pressure to perform by those around me. That’s another reason I have been extremely reluctant to sing publicly. My vocal “gift” is not raw talent. I literally had to teach myself to sing. When I was young, I loved to sing but couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. When I started buying tapes and CDs, I’d play them for hours, pitching my voice to match the artists – first country, then pop/rock – and somehow, magically, I could sort of sing. And people responded to that. I soaked up the attention, and in many ways it was a great thing.


Until it wasn’t.


Until I became known as the girl who sang with conviction and passion (if not technical perfection) and could maybe accompany you or front your band. And then it was an obligation, not a joy. I’ve silenced my voice for over a decade, because I knew on some intrinsic level that if I didn’t, I’d spend years playing and singing songs I didn’t feel, or writing songs I could perform for no one but myself, or writing “performable” songs that would steal a piece of my soul. And I’d hate it. That’s why I have been extremely reluctant to sing in churches or karaoke bars, to play at functions, or even to write. Because one such event always always leads to another.


Over Christmas, I visited my parents. There’s an annual tradition my Dad attends – a Christmas morning brunch with a bunch of folks who may or may not have somewhere to go for the holiday. After we’d had our fill of food and coffee, we all headed in to the living room for some caroling. My Dad performs a solo every year – Six White Boomers – and his friend with the guitar didn’t know the song. I offered to get her a key to play in, and somehow – with shaking hands and an unpracticed ear – ended up accompanying Dad on the whole song. No one made a big deal when I handed the guitar back, leaned back on the couch, and sang along with the others on the next song.


I loved it.


Because it wasn’t about me.


I was part of a collective, not a show monkey being paraded in front of a group of people. And that one experience told me that it was time to steady my hands and hold the music again. It paved the way for a solo New Year’s Eve – just me and a guitar and a seriously out-of-tune upright – opened the door to bleeding fingertips and aching wrists and a voice I didn’t realize I had.


Even so, after so much reflection and work and a few tears, I started to wonder
if music was really in my blood, or if I was just kidding myself. Of course my skills are rusty. Of course I need to practice. It’s been so long since I sat down and wrote that I forgot the process (for the record, there is no “process” beyond sitting and writing). Of course I have things I want to say… But does music coarse through my veins? Do I need it like my morning coffee, or a hard run, or a good night’s sleep?


Absolutely, yes!


I used to say that music was in my blood…


And I’ll start saying it again.


Because it is.