• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


A Pack Animal ...

... not a lone wolf.

December 15, 2013

As a child, I was an enthusiastic participant in my Episcopalian church's junior choir. I loved the complex rhythms and harmonics of the old hymns; most of all, I loved singing within a community, 12 young women meeting very week to practice, blending our voices, sharing frustrations and laughs.

The choirmaster noted that I had an unusually good ear combined with a clear, sweet voice, and gave me extra instruction and encouragement. I loved the attention, until it became clear that he was grooming me for solo parts. Then I balked.

It wasn't stage fright. I hadn't yet developed enough self-awareness to be nervous about singing by myself in front of an audience. It was just that, for me, all the fun sprang from singing with my friends. (Yes, I know it was all supposed to be offered up to the glory of God. I was a child.) He lost interest in me, and I ended up dropping out.

I also took piano lessons, and my teachers also noted my musicality. But I hated to practice, and eventually dropped out of those as well. My parents and teachers blamed laziness, and I believed this—until I learned to play the recorder as a young adult, and started playing with early music groups. I had boundless energy for practicing then. If the others were on board, I could go all night.

More recently, I was the mezzo in a four-woman singing group that performed for a while around the city. I loved this experience and wanted to keep it going forever. (We still sing together for fun, but two of our members' lives have become too complicated to support the intensity of rehearsals we needed to make the group work. I continue to mourn this.) Yet, although I can now sing solos in front of an audience with a minimum of angst, I have never, ever desired a solo singing career.

So the other night, as my improv/sketch team celebrated our very successful holiday show, I found myself reflecting on the temperamental differences that seem to separate improvisers/sketch comics, and ensemble singers/players, on the one hand, and soloists/actors/standup comedians on the other. (Of course, many people fall into both camps. I do. But most seem to gravitate more toward one or the other.)

I like being in plays and films, but what I enjoy most is the interaction, the team effort. I don't mind being directed by someone with a strong, clear vision, but that feels more like a (welcome) job than a recreational activity. When there is give and take among artists, it doesn't feel like work at all.

I don't think this is about "nice, cooperative team players vs narcissistic divas." I think we all have areas in our lives in which we do our best work alone, and others in which we thrive on companionship. I need to write sketches by myself, and then bring them into the group, for example, rather than engage in the collaborative writing sessions some of the others find fruitful.

I'm also aware that this team is unlikely to last forever. People's needs and life circumstances change, and eventually we all may need to move on.

In this moment, though, I am living out a dream I wasn't fully aware that I had. I'm doing fun, creative work with people who are becoming close friends. We have a synergy that feels stronger than the many impressive gifts individual members bring to the table. We spend a lot of hours creating and honing our shows, and it never, ever feels like work.


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