Reflections on music

I feel like philosophizing…since this blog is kind of like my journal so…

I’ve had several chances to get back into my music coming home. Traveling, we don’t have access to a piano or piano music so for the last two years, the only singing I’ve done is at church on Sunday.

And coming back home and messing around a bit on the piano, I’ve realized, though I do miss it, I’m happy that way. This was the right decision.

I’ve decided something about musicians. Professional, serious musicians that is. They seem to have to dedicate their lives to music. It’s all or nothing for them. All their time, energy, and creative juices seem to be devoted to the pastime. This isn’t true with every hobby. But it’s true with music.

Music simply isn’t my only passion, or even my first one. But I was living my life like it was. I just liked to sing. And that’s it. I didn’t care about all the music history and the genres and the opera singers. I just listened to pop and rock.

What’s more, there’s a connection between being a seriously invested musician and being a bit off-kilter, emotionally and mentally. It’s not just me that noticed that. Jacob took a class called Creatively Crazy or something like that at his college. It was a class that studied the many famous composers and other creators who also were certifiably mentally ill. Art is not always a stable thing.

I’ve found that as I’ve moved away from having music as the center of my life and become more well-rounded (getting into shape physically, traveling, and becoming business-savvy) I’ve also become a much less emotionally unstable person. I don’t think this has to be true for every musician—I think some can handle the balance better than I did. But it’s true for me.

There’s something about devoting your life to expression that makes you feel things a little more deeply and be a bit more dramatic and melancholy than the average person.

I performed for two fairly large groups of people this week. Once, at Dr Stripling’s 75th birthday party (he’s my former voice teacher) and once for church on Sunday. They were minor miracles especially since I was not too nervous—I used to absolutely refuse to sing for any audiences for a while. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever sing for people again.

About my third year of the music program at BYU, I started getting major performance anxiety, which I’d never had before. I had a rocky performance and it shook my confidence, causing several more rocky performances. It would seriously stress me out the whole day if I had to perform. I tried all sorts of tricks. I wore red to give me confidence because I read somewhere red is the best color for competition. I practiced for friends. I spent hours practicing alone in practice rooms daily, sometimes singing myself to tearful frustration. But the problem only worsened and took its toll on my health and happiness. My voice, as well, regressed. I got lower and lower scores on my performances in contrast to the increased amount of hours I spent practicing (growing up, I never purposely practiced any of my songs except in voice lessons). And BYU wasn’t the nurturing, always encouraging environment that I’d grown up in musically.

I can’t believe I graduated in it, actually. I sung my senior recital clutching the piano to keep from collapsing. But I was overwhelmed that so many people showed up in support of me.The final song (which is supposed to be a love song but I interpreted it differently) I sang summed up my feelings, knowing I might not choose to sing again:

When I have sung my songs to you,
I’ll sing no more.
T’wld be a sacrilege to sing
at another door.
We’ve worked so hard to hold
our dreams, just you and I.
I could not share them all again,
I’d rather die
With just the thought that
I had loved so well, so true,
That I could never sing again,
except to you.

Knowing what I know now, I would have changed my major. It clearly wasn’t the right choice for me. I wish I could say I had prayed in my choice of a major. But I hadn’t. I had become a voice major and indeed had sung my whole life without thinking about it much. It felt like it just happened instead of being a conscious decision. By the time I was praying to find out if it was the right major for me, I was too deeply invested in it to know if I should leave.

The worst part is, I based my worth on my voice. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I know it now. It was one of the major contributing factors to my stress. It sounds silly to say it, but on the other hand…

In yearbooks and in Young Women’s activities, for example, other girls may have gotten messages like,

“You are such a sweet girl. You are so fun.”

My messages usually ran like this,

“Wow, you have such an amazing voice. I love to hear you sing.”

Other people might have been able to just accept the compliment, and move on, but not me. I WAS my voice. This WAS my contribution to the world. It was my value. It was my identity. I took tremendous pride in the amount of attention I received from my talent, instead of just knowing it was something I did on the side in addition to who I was as a person.

I got an outpouring of love and affection after a performance that I didn’t get in other situations. I got compliments about my singing when I didn’t receive much attention in other things.

So having a bad performance or someone criticizing my voice was like someone was directly speaking against ME. It was an unhealthy perspective, but one I didn’t even acknowledge I had. It’s harder for vocalists, because their instrument IS their body, so it’s easier to get more attached to its worth.

So many people throughout my life have put a lot of pressure on me to perform and to sing. It was well-intentioned. It was because they were admiring my voice. Even more than that, I have had a lot of supportive, encouraging people in my life, which I really appreciate. My roommates in college in particular were absolutely amazing! I can’t believe they used to get me flowers for every performance.

But it took courage for me to find out my path in life aside from the expectations of others. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for my gift, but this was truly one of  the hardest periods of my life to try to come to terms with. Especially with all the talk of “burying your talents” and feeling like God had given me a gift and I was ruining it. Not to mention, I had a lot of scholarships and financial aid invested in my voice. Looking back, though, I can hardly believe that I was so frustrated with that trial. It wasn’t a trial, it was showing me that doing music professionally wasn’t my thing—there were better things ahead for me! Hindsight is everything, I guess.

But this experience taught me how I want to be with others in similar situations. And that is, to remove expectations from what I think is best for them, and let them make their own choices. I’ve seen so often how what seems obviously right for someone may not be true and they are the only ones who can live their own lives. For example, I would have never thought Jacob dropping out of college with only one semester left could be the right thing to do. But he made the right choice and I can certainly see that now.

And there may be those who still think that I should have went on to study more music and be an opera singer. But I can’t imagine anything I’d rather do than help Jacob with our internet businesses and travel the world :) One more reason Jacob is perfect for me—he is clueless when it comes to good singing, so he just loves me for me!

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I still enjoy singing. But I enjoy it the most when I feel like it is a choice and done out of love.

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 365 awesome articles for us.

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