This post was written for What Did You Notice?, the blog of Music That Makes Community. Paul has been an MMC presenter since 2011 and now serves as the Executive Director.
My second year of graduate school, I registered for an elective in continuo playing (see above for examples of figured bass, i.e. Baroque chord symbols). It seemed like a great way to round out my skills as a church musician and it offered the opportunity to play different repertoire than I usually encountered as a pianist. I went to the first class with a bit of nervous anticipation, which was kicked up a notch when the professor began with an exercise to assess our skill level. Each student was given an eight-measure melody with figured bass to sightread in front of everyone.
I registered for the class to stretch myself, to gain new experiences, and to be able to perform Baroque music with more authenticity. But, approaching this moment of assessment, all I felt was fear: fear of being scrutinized, judged, inadequate. When an exceptionally gifted keyboardist played shortly before me, I was undone.
Intimidated and insecure, I stumbled through my excerpt, sat back down, and decided the class was too difficult. I went to the Registrar’s office the next day and signed up for a choral literature class instead, embarrassed that I had even even tried in the first place.
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Learning spaces are challenging spaces. To gain a new skill requires humility and resilience, flexibility and fortitude. When we come up against our limitations, it can bruise the ego and cause us to doubt our ability or value. New experiences can also be disorienting as expectations and assumptions shift frequently. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming that we shut down and step away completely, like I did.
But what I’ve experienced through Music That Makes Community is that learning can be a joyful, enlivening, liberating experience. While we can never ease the discomfort that comes from learning a new skill or the jitters before sharing a new song (nerves are common to everyone, even world-class performers), it is empowering to name our fears, to befriend them, and look for the surprising lessons and gifts these uncomfortable spaces offer to us.
At MMC workshops, a generous, gracious community of presenters and participants provide a foundation that supports learning and exploration. No one is asked to walk a tightrope of perfection or expertise but we model how to share the gift of song through mirroring and echoing, intentional reflection or 'noticing,' and small group work. Firm in the belief that we are all musicians and all learners, regardless of our experience or skill, we invest ourselves in the process of making music together. And the returns are significant, in personal growth and confidence, as well as the quality of community we create.
I invite you to attend a Music That Makes Community workshop this fall and join us as we create gracious, creative spaces for musical and personal growth. Develop or refine your skills as a song leader. Experience what happens when worship, singing, and learning are no long high-stakes propositions, tinged with fear of failure, but become life-affirming actions that help us discover who we are and who God is calling us to be.