Friday, December 21, 2018

Backstage with Maestro Morgan, Dr. Morrow, and a member of the chorus.
Photos by Fabian Aguirre
Lessons learned ... .

Leading up to the big debut of my song last weekend I'd experienced a great deal of anxiety, both about the concert, but mostly about singing again after so many years.  Could hardly recall when I'd experienced such feelings of resistance.

The producer/director had been coaxing with increasing pressure for months.  My son, Bob, whose opinion I value, had concurred in the belief that this was something that I could do, and that my fears were without cause.  "You can DO this, those throat muscles only need to be exercised and the vocal tones will return."  Nothing they could say was convincing enough for me to whomp up enough desire for trying to slip back into that younger Betty's persona, especially since I'd been re-introduced to her through those rediscovered 50-year-old tapes -- and was intimidated by her talent.  She could have done this with ease, but not the aged present-day Betty.  That was impossible.

I'd taken my guitar out of the case on more than one occasion over recent weeks and tried to find that voice ... .  It was simply no longer there.  I was convinced that those around me were fooling themselves, and that I was being led into the "cringe zone"!

Nonetheless, the film was becoming more and more dependent upon this scene that would be staged at the magnificent Paramount theater, and I could certainly understand how dramatic that might be to have me leading that huge audience in the singing of my little hymn -- what a statement this might make.  But could we not simply get one of the soloists from the chorus to step into that role?  Would not that be fairer to my deserving little song?

I had enough ego to fantasize myself wistfully into that scene, but each time the occasions arose that moved it closer and closer, the greater the panic grew until I could feel myself having difficulty breathing deeply enough to maintain any sense of calm whenever I tried to imagine myself into that role.

On Saturday evening, on the eve of the concert, there was a breakthrough.  It was an "Aha!" moment, and I told the filmmaker that I needed to speak with the director at the rehearsal scheduled for the next day.

I had figured out the problem, and how I might meet the expectations of all concerned.

Working thru the barriers with Dr. Lynne Morrow, Symphony Chorus director
It was that I'd learned while meeting with the chorus a few days earlier that my introduction would be through the Maestro followed by Dr. Morrow taking over to tell the audience how the song came about. I was shaken by that since I'd assumed  up until that moment that I would present my song and its genesis.  I now knew what needed to happen.

Suddenly I felt at peace:

I am not a singer.  I once was, but that identity had been long lived away, and there would be no stepping back in time.  I am a storyteller.  Even in my songs, this is who I've always been.  Over time this is who I've become in my work with the Park Service, and if Lynne Morrow told the story of my song, I would enter from stage right as a "has-been" singer.  My voice may now be unpredictable and unreliable, but that doesn't matter one whit to Betty the Storyteller.

I would meet with Dr. Morrow at this final rehearsal and explain the breakthrough.  I could not perform comfortably unless the story of how "Your hand in mine" came into being was allowed to be a part of my performance.  It would take no more than two minutes to tell, but would allow me to present myself more honestly, as the storyteller that I've become.

And by claiming the right to define myself, the anxiety disappeared and the performance lived up to my own expectations.

It only took a few minutes to find that this would be possible, and that she would notify Conductor Michael Morgan of the change.  Both graciously accepted my last minute program change.

Problem solved.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Oh MY!

Click on photo to enlarge for full effect

Here 'tis ... and can you imagine that my little hand-holding song written in protest in 1964 would be sung to life after being hidden away for all these years -- no, decades? Not only this, but there were 3 separate choirs who were also singing along, breathing life into the moment with me.

It was surreal ... .

It was a moment in time when the world stood still sharing with me in this incredible remembrance of the fearless, embattled, unbelievably courageous Fanny Lou Hamer facing down the entire Democratic Convention of that year against an intractably crude and vulgar President Lyndon Baines Johnson who would crush this upstart black woman who might threaten his hopes for retaining his southern block constituency.  I'd learned by this time from words revealed by his African American long-time driver  (his name was Robert Parker, I believe) that -- as it was moving through the legislature toward passage in 1965, he would always refer to his long-awaited Voters Rights Act as "mah Nigga Bill"!

Only a short time later that same conflicted Lyndon Johnson -- after passage of the most enabling civil rights legislation -- after being psychologically bruised and battered by Vietnam resisters on the nation's streets and on our campuses -- after the life-changing assassinations of the Kennedys and Dr. King and Malcolm X -- in his plea for unity in the country, he appeared on television dramatically ending his impassioned speech with the words "... and WE shall overcome!"

I'd watched him through tears of rage -- standing before the nation expropriating this sacred rallying song that had seen us through some of the most horrendous years we'd ever lived.

All of the women that I'd ever been stood there with me on on that stage on Sunday -- reveling in the splendor of that magnificent space -- and feeling every moment of it in every fiber of our being!

Caught from the audience by
Uche Uwahemu
The next day this young mother's response was to create a new alternative hand-holding song, "Your hand in mine".  I would no longer sing We Shall Overcome.  Not ever again.  My little song was never published, but took  its place among the others in the "shoe box" in the back of my closets, but now it would live.

And it did!