Imagine this: you’re starving. But what are you in the mood for?
Do you feel like donning your sharpest suit and heading out for a perfectly presented, Michelin star-worthy 5 course meal? Maybe you’d rather just pop to that tiny street stall where the tacos wouldn’t win any beauty contests but they blow your mind with their flavor every single time?
There’s no right answer here. Both options will fill your belly and leave you feeling pretty darn good.
So it is with music.
I recently enjoyed a musical adventure in Cuba and the whole trip embodied two very different approaches to music. The first week I spent with the musical equivalent of the Michelin star chefs — amazing choir directors who were teaching the art of music, a Eurocentric approach. These directors have years of training under their belts and can teach any kind of music with ease. Their music was so incredibly beautiful I found myself moved to tears. It touched my heart deeply.
Yet, with such a focus on the “art”, on getting every note just right, I didn’t always feel comfortable. There were times when the choir directors would frown because we didn’t sound good enough and every day I questioned whether I was good enough.
The second week, spent with Afro Cubans, was like a hit of amazing street food — fun, relaxed and packed with flavor. They gave me an experience of their culture, their approach to life, and their rhythm.
This wasn’t music as art, this was music as life!
While my first week was spent in Catholic churches, the second was spent on people’s patios with drumming, singing, and rum … If we didn’t sound quite right, if we couldn’t quite shake our hips the way they did, it didn’t matter. They knew we’d get there eventually. The laughter, the camaraderie, the experience was the important thing.
We weren’t performing for an audience, we were performing for ourselves.
The music may have been technically “uglier” but to me, in its own way, it was even more beautiful.
The beauty of the music vs. the beauty of the human soul?
The experience has truly highlighted my ongoing musical struggle: the desire to “get it right” (because there is so much beauty in that!) versus the Afrocentric world-view of music, the human-level beauty of people coming together, of forming a musical community inspired by togetherness and the sheer joy of singing.
Happily, there is a place for both in the world.
There will be situations that call for the gourmet meal and occasions where street food is exactly what you need. Times when you can enjoy the thrill of seeing a virtuoso perform and times when music is all about spontaneity, laughter, and connection.
At Sing Portland!, we definitely lean to towards the second approach. We’ll never have “advanced” classes and our focus isn’t on technical perfection, it’s about coming together and enjoying the musical experience above all else. Everyone is good enough to join us and everyone is welcome!