Former President George H. W. Bush had good, practical advice about public speaking under emotionally-challenging circumstances. When he had to speak at the funeral once, he read the speech over and over again, attempting to pull the emotional attachment out of the words. When I heard that story, I thought it was a good idea, but not particularly brave (no disrespect). I think it’s a hell of a lot braver to be real and real people get choked up.
There was a song on my concert last week called “Allerseelen.” It’s about a couple and they have clearly been through the ringer (By the way, what this story is not about…is a dead person…and somewhere in Steiermark, a dashing, white-haired German poet is screaming, “ENDLICH.”):
Put the flowers on the table and let’s talk about love, like we used to. Give me your hand, I’ll hold it in secret. If someone sees? I don’t give a damn! Give me just one more of your sweet looks. Everything is new and fresh again – there is one day every year when even the dead come back to life – come back to me! I need you back, my love! The way we used to be. How we used to be.
Any smart singer in my situation would avoid this song like the plague. I have rarely performed it in public since 2011 without crying a little bit because it reminds me of, well, my own “sweet look”er. When I began preparation for the Hospice benefit, I found it in my “old recitals” folder. “Allerseelen” is my song. It is set by Strauss (who writes for my voice type), it is in German (liebe the German), text is amazing (I’m a nerd) and it has breathtaking piano & vocal marriage.
If the concert in honor of the Hospice was going to be my best, I needed to sing it. My “sweet look”er has never attended one of my concerts and doesn’t particularly like opera anyway. If I did cry, it would be minimal and not ugly Oprah cry (with snot). The song went on the program. Easy.
Nope. In the telenovela that is my life, my “sweet look”er would attend the concert and stand in my eye line throughout the entire concert, including during “Allerseelen,” which I was singing to him, though he didn’t know it and thankfully never will because he never reads this blog.
Papa Bush is right. It is hard to sing or speak when you cry or when you are seriously attached to the text (in an emotional way). It might make the message more about you and less about the message.
But, for my “sweet look”er and the hell we have been put through? Well, it was worth that tear, that lump in the throat possibly coming in. It wasn’t easy for him to come to the concert and it wasn’t easy for me to sing (see previous post). We were both brave last Sunday and the result is that I didn’t cry during “Allerseelen” because it was our song and I was singing it to him. It wasn’t sad, it was beautiful.
Ein Tag im Jahr ist ja den Toten frei, komm an mein Herz, dass ich dich wieder habe, wie einst im Mai.
Wie einst im Mai, indeed.