“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story within you.”
The weekend was bookended by two musical events. The first, a solo cabaret show and the other a concert with choir, jazz ensemble and brass orchestra. It was a sweet and inspiring way to spend a weekend in May especially one that danced with varying levels of intense rain. Thinking about the many ways music can be experienced, I marveled at the contrasts in these two events.
On Friday evening, I was blessed by the gifts of one woman telling a part of her personal story using music that was familiar. It reminded me of the times when I have imagined a soundtrack that underscores my own life. A show tune here. A jazz piano there. A little rock, a banjo or two, finished off by a symphony. Depending on the mood and circumstances that make up any day, the music changes to fit the feelings, the experiences. Have you ever done this? Imagined a soundtrack for your life?
Listening to this woman’s story I was struck with her vulnerability, her ability and willingness to tell some very deep and powerful tales that pulled me in and allowed me to identify. As she wove her own spoken story with familiar music, she allowed me to hear these tunes, understand these lyrics in new ways. Mostly I was stunned by one person’s ability to hold the attention of an audience with her own story, her own beautiful reflection of what might be seen as a rather ordinary set of life circumstances. But when told with such intention and passion, when held in the beauty of music, these experiences many in the audience had probably also had, created a spell-binding show.
The Sunday evening concert was big with content and with sound. The words of scripture and those of Martin Luther King, Jr. set to music by jazz legend Dave Brubak combined to create a bigger than life experience. There were few quiet moments and so the ones that did happen carried an even greater weight. I looked and listened to all the people who had joined forces to tell a story of justice, its illusive nature and yet the deep hope we have in its realization. It would have been difficult for one single person to have told this story or given voice to this longing. The music and the message needed a host to bring its telling to life.
I thought of the many stories we tell as humans. We are, after all, the ones who tell the stories of those who have gone before. It is the task of being human to not only tell our history but also to imagine with words that inspire the hope of a future. And the place in between, this place where we live in the here and now, is the story we are living. In its dailiness with all its ordinary and amazing experiences. This ‘here and now’ was once a future and will, in the blink of an eye, be our history.
What might the story of your life look like if you took it to the stage? Would it be a comedy or a tragedy? Would it have the audience cheering you on? Might there be moments when others might wince with knowing at some of your choices? Might others be inspired and moved to tears by the telling? I imagine all our stories would hold these elements and so much more.
These life stories we are privileged to act out on the stage of our lives are ones none of us auditioned for. And yet, we get to be the actors, we get to choose how we will play the part. Sometimes it feels like a solo cabaret show and other times we have a full company of performers who help us keep the show going.
And sometimes, if we are exceptionally blessed, there is music. Sweet music to help bring the fullness of our own story to the world’s stage.