On Saying Yes / by Susie Lubell

A week ago I was on a camping trip with a few families and I got a phone call from the director of my choir. I sing in a choir. I like to sing. I've always liked to sing. In college I sang in an a capella group which might have been the best thing about college. We rehearsed twice a week and performed around campus. It was good fun. But once I graduated, I stopped singing. Anyway, this year the director of the music school in our town (the guy who built it from nothing) announced that he was starting a new adult choir and even though I preferred to sing Annie Lennox and Led Zeppelin rather than Mendelsohn and Psalms, I decided to try it. Turns out it doesn't much matter what I'm singing. I like it all the same.

But back to the phone call. He called to ask if I wanted to sing a song in Yiddish at the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in our community. I let out an incredulous chuckle. Are you kidding me?You want me to sing in public? In Yiddish? Next week?  He said No, not kidding. Yes, Yiddish song. In front of people. Next week. Isn't there anyone else you can ask? I mean I barely speak Hebrew and you want me to sing in Yiddish? Gevalt! He said, I want you to do it. It's a beautiful song. It fits your voice. I told him I'd think about it. He said he'd send me the music and a recording of him singing the song. He sent both immediately after we hung up. He was serious. 

We returned from camping and I ran into him at the supermarket. Ugh. Are we doing the song? he asked. I still hadn't said yes. Sensing I was on the verge of saying no, he said, "listen, let's practice it a few times and then you decide." I didn't want to disappoint him but I also really didn't want to learn a new song in another language and sing it at a public ceremony four days from now.

You see I get nervous doing anything live in front of other people. Even just talking. This is why I like blogging. Because I can edit. If something doesn't come out right, I can go back. I can even unpublish. I can SHUT. IT. DOWN. Performing is not like that. Once you hit the wrong note or screw up the words, you're done. I mean, your life is not over, but it's still a bummer. An irreversible bummer. And I tend to hold onto bummers for a long time. I wasn't always like this though. I used to perform all the time in a children's theater company. I used to play piano in recitals and in front of judges. Even in college, performing with my group was a rush. I loved it. I sang solos in front of hundreds of people. I regularly made a total ass of myself on stage. It was awesome. But in the twenty years since the last time I was on a stage, a kind of performance anxiety had taken hold. We can even call it fear because that's what it really is. Fear of looking foolish. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of getting in over my head. And it's kind of pervasive. I felt it in graduate school. I felt in my various positions in my various careers. This fear that I'm just not qualified. 

Plus there's this thing about knowing when to say no. People are always talking about being skilled at saying no. Knowing when to forego opportunities because they are not worthy of your time or energy. Understanding your priorities. Not getting roped into someone else's circus. I'm all for that. And in my quest to slow down and stay focused on my family and my work and my own happiness, I've gotten pretty good at saying no. Maybe too good. Some days it's more or less the only thing I say all day. Just ask my kids.

But then I recalled what he said on the phone. I want you to sing it, he said. That's when I had my Moses on the Mountain moment. If the director of the music school asks you to sing a song, no matter what language or key or day of the year, you sing it. You go learn the music and sing the song. Because he knows you can and your job is to trust him. If you get the call (and in this case it literally was a call) you answer it. Had he asked my son or daughter to play piano at the ceremony, I would have encouraged them to do it because the only reason not to is the fear and that's not a good enough reason. And all this without mentioning what an honor it would be to sing this particular song in rememberance of those who had perished in the camps and fighting in the resistance. And those who lived to share their horrors.

So I said YES. And I practiced and we worked on it together and I practiced more. I practiced a lot. I even recorded myself singing and we all know how painful it is to listen to a recording of yourself. But I said YES. I let go of my fear. I got up on stage in front of 500 people and I sang my heart out. I said YES.