Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Why the Message is Music's Point of the Spear, and How To Miss It

My bowed psaltery
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What I'm about to share with you is rather humbling, but I've come to believe the best teaching is informed by actual experience. That said... I'm going to teach you a fresh lesson I learned this weekend about musical performance. In this case, the voice was that of my bowed psaltry. It's a German variation of the ancient plucked psaltry. This one is laid out like a mini-piano keyboard, and I play between the pegs with two bows. I place it on a tripod (mine has a screw hole in the back) so the wooden sound board can vibrate freely.

I was invited by Melissa Dupuy, brilliant multi-instrumentalist, writer and teacher who frequently plays at Nashville's 2nd Presbyterian, to play this instrument I hadn't played in years for both Sunday morning services. I would be in a quartet of musicians for an instrumental round of the 8 bar cannon 'When Jesus Wept'. It's a beautiful piece, and the other players - on guitar, recorder, violin - were truly gifted musicians. I'd never heard the song, and had to translate the sheet music into numbers to learn it because my bowed psaltry is tuned in G, not C. Also, I had never played it with anyone else, so I'd only tuned it to itself. It was about 1/4 step sharp, so I tuned all strings down with a guitar tuner (a major feat itself for this delicate instrument) and practiced for days to try and get my bowing-between-the-pegs chops back up. Melissa kindly came over to rehearse a couple of times. I felt ok by the time Sunday rolled around, but I found myself unusually a bit shall we say... anxious!

To get to the church for our first and only practice before the early service, I had to get up far earlier than is my custom, so there was that. I wore heels, which is usually something my lazy legs only do when I get to sit down a lot. Coffee was non-negotiable. Drank my protein smoothie in the car while my husband John drove. We were also joining the church last Sunday, so there was that to do between services. They actually vote on you in the Presbyterian denomination. We love the people there so much already, but there was still that fresh meat probie aspect... and I'd be performing for the first time for them, too!

OK so it gets to be mid-service; time for the offertory. We've been standing for a while, so my heeled legs are feeling a bit fatigued. Did I say I started the round? Yep. It's a light, ethereal sounding instrument, so we put it first to give it sonic space. And of course my bow slipped a bit. Did they hear that? Also the rosin in my case was hard as a fossel. There could be some dinosaur DNA in it. So my bow was a bit scratchy, and harmonics appeared from the psaltry that were reminiscent of fingernails on a chalkboard. Hmm. The psaltry was mic'd so its volume was balanced in the auditorium, but we didn't have monitors, so I couldn't hear the thing when the other beautiful instruments came in for their part of the round! I realized mid-performance how much I depend on hearing what my strings are playing. We finished; no one seemed appalled, and I pretended nothing was wrong. However, my husband knew I needed some air. Yep. Oh well, I'll never have to do that again. Oh no... yes I do... there's the 11 o'clock service and tons more people!

Between services, I drank more coffee, unexpectedly took sweet compliments from several folks who had attended the early service and then hunted down the violin player, from whom I begged a bit of her jade rosin. Quickly rosined up both my bows and prayed for help! It really was much better this time; the fresh rosin made a quality difference, I focused on the pegs and sweated my way through. Did I say these musicians were awesome? after the service, I got all kinds of questions about my odd instrument, and comments about how cool these particular 4 instruments sounded together. Whew. Driving home I felt like a truck had run over me and then backed up. Amazing how much stress I experienced with this.

So, as is my habit, I thought back on it all day, and a lightbulb came on. I had forgotten what I know and teach... it's about the MESSAGE, dummy! I had focused on perfection of playing, on what people thought, if my mistakes had been noticed, if my musicianship was judged inadequate... on MYSELF! This is not like me. But it was true. Everyone was so kind and complimentary, but I figured I was just barely able to pull it off. Thank God I guess the music blessed the room anyway!

Here's what I missed:

The point of the spear of this music, like all art, is the message. And this was the message I had missed on Palm Sunday: Jesus hurt! Jesus was in every kind of pain one could imagine... physical, emotional, even spiritual pain. The song's haunting melody sings of Jesus' deep suffering. A 'man of sorrows', Christian belief says he is more than able to be present with and care for all who suffer, and to follow Jesus means we do the same. This message was all I needed to have avoided the stress and anxiety of delivering it. 

Next time, I will remember. (Remind me I said that!) My job whenever I am playing or singing is two-fold: 
  1. To prepare my instrument or voice and rehearse so I know the music like the back of my hand.
  2. When performing, to focus on and deliver the message in the music. Period.
Oh, I'm also going to get myself some Jade rosin just in case anyone ever asks me to play the bowed psaltry again!

Humbly yours:)

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  • At April 12, 2017 at 7:54 AM , Anonymous Ron Calabrese said...

    Judy, whoever first said " Pride precedes the fall."was truly a genius. I recall, ( with much pain) the time I was singing the Out Father, and was reveling in my mind about how well it was going. Everything was there, dynamic range, floating notes, All of a sudden, the good Lord decided to bless me with some deserved humility. I forgot the words! Since I had sung this piece at least 75 times on Sundays and at weddings, forgetting the words was definitely divine intervention. Luckily, my accompanist quickly realized my plight, and repeated the portion filled with my silence. I guess the lesson is to put ONLY your audience in a trance!

  • At April 12, 2017 at 8:09 AM , Anonymous Rita Pearce said...

    Thoroughly appreciated your message. We've all had the experience of providing music--be it vocal or instrumental--in church. While we wish mainly to serve, our performer's mindset kicks in. I think God blesses the use of His gifts when we serve. He speaks in ways we are not even aware of to those who are there to hear. I'm always thankful for His accompaniment to any of my efforts.
    Blessings to you and yours...Happy Easter.

  • At April 12, 2017 at 8:31 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Ron and Rita... thank you so much for sharing your thoughtful comments on this post! Your experience and insight is much appreciated!

  • At April 12, 2017 at 9:09 PM , Anonymous Dawn Kent said...

    Thank you for sharing!

  • At April 16, 2017 at 3:49 PM , Anonymous Natalie said...

    At first, I will tell you that Very Best of Luck! You've written a very thoughtful post on the music. This is informative and researched. This will work as a tonic to the peoples. I know that you have written all of the things from your real life experience. So, thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  • At May 6, 2017 at 2:51 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Thanks for being transparent AND for the encouragement I just received from you! Been the worship pastor at Calvary Chapel in Nederland,Co. for almost 30 yrs. and often go through all the emotions of "not good enough,who am I kidding,my singing sucks,will I ever get any better, I think that was actually good!"etc. and forget the MESSAGE. Been working more on that and trying to forget about myself...God bless!!

  • At May 6, 2017 at 5:05 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Glad I'm not the only one:) Thx so much for your message, I'm glad you found this helpful!


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