Managing Expectations

Fact: I am a nearly 41 year old woman with serious health issues. One could say my prime left a long time ago.

Another fact: while perhaps somewhat dimished by time, age and illness, I still have a voice worth hearing.

Contrary to some popular belief, I am confident of my ability to sing.  It’s never been in question. I greatly enjoy making music, and it is a wonderful feeling when others appreciate both the gift and hard work that has gone into a performance. The fact that I have had limited success has little to do with talent, and much more to do with wrong place, wrong time and various life situations that kept me from the right connections and being discovered on a bigger scale.

When I was young, I had a dream.  And, I believed that despite all odds and crappiness of life, I would be discovered and have a big musical career.

Decades passed.  Life continued to bombard. But, I also continued developing my craft, and I never stopped making music. Mostly because it is the fabric of who I am. As long as I am forced to live in this world, I will sing and play. And, I will always keep doing it professionally when and where I can. Since moving to the UK, I have been well received, overall. And, I’ve been given opportunities to be heard.  And, in almost every case, as I say, I’ve been very well received and the music has been appreciated.

I’ve done what I could to get the music out there.  Recording a couple of albums for download, and submitting my stuff to places like BBC Introducing.

I was heard by someone from BBC Radio when I played at a meditation centre in Leicester, and he gave me his personal e-mail to send him my stuff, telling me they champion local artists.  I sent him my stuff. Never heard back. Just like I never heard back from the BBC Introducing folks.

This is all to say, I am under no illusions. First, I am under no illusions that I am talented. Bloody well gifted, even. But, when I go on about that too much, I sound conceited.  If, on the other hand. I try to manage expectations about being heard by scouts from The Voice UK and urged to audition for the show, people begin to think I doubt myself. Believe me, I do not. I’m simply being realistic.

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The card I was handed from The Voice scouts.

Since announcing that I had been heard at the Loughborough Acoustic Club by said scouts, and that they told me I have a great voice and they would love me to audition for the show, I have been getting a steady stream of “Oh, I can’t wait to see you on the tele, Autumn; you’ll be great; we’ll vote for you!” comments.

I feel the love, people. And, genuinely, from the depths of my broken heart and contralto pipes, thank you! The support is lovely. Awesome. It makes me feel all warm and shiney. Let’s be clear: I really appreciate it. And, if by some miracle, I make it to the televised voting bit, I’ll hold you all to it.  But, let’s not count our chickens.

There was a time when I would have allowed my hopes to soar. I have learned never to do this again. Not after all these years. Not after all the attempts to “make it”.  Not after the disappointment ravaged my weary soul and left permanent marks I feel every waking moment of every single day.

I’m managing my own expectations, as well as other people’s. It’s all about perspective. Here’s what it is: I sang well (after all, I am good). I was heard and appreciated by a couple of official representitives from The Voice.  I was asked to apply to audition for the 5th series of the show. After giving it some thought (my first being, “this is like 20 years too late for me”), I’ve decided auditioning can’t hurt. Getting a day out in Birmingham and singing to some new people…well, that’s all good.  But, that’s where I expect it will end, as far as the show goes.  Other things may come out of it, or not.  But, I am not even in the slightest going to allow my mind to go to that place where I see myself on that show.  Because, if I do that, and nothing comes of it, it would be another devastating blow to an already destroyed soul.  No, I cannot afford to even entertain the notion.

It’s a day out in Birmingham. I get to sing to new people. And, it’s all good.

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I don’t have a title for this…it’s just a post about how I am right now.

I’ve often explained that depression is NOT sadness. It’s more of a pervasive weariness, an extreme exhaustion…of everything. When I get tired, it’s more difficult than ever to see anything but what’s wrong with life.

I am very tired right now.  Physically, I am drained.  Is it age? Crappy health? I’m actually exercising more than ever (thanks to Ingress geting me out walking most every day), but it doesn’t matter the form of exercise, it never leaves me with that endorphin lift all the experts (and gym nuts – you know who YOU are!) swear everyone gets.  No, not everyone does get a lift from exercise.  Some of us just feel more pain than usual.  However, my Ingress obsession has kept me active despite feeling like total poo.

I’m not singing either. It’s like I can’t be bothered. Can’t be bothered to do vocal exercises or take care of my voice. It’s almost like I began to be as apathetic as the majority of the world when it comes to my talent. “Oh, you don’t want to discover how great I am? You don’t want to hear me? Yeah, well…fine. Really.”

It’s sort of scary, because I’ve never really been this far down – so down that I no longer care about my music and, specifically, my voice…and, I really do not care.

I’m tired.

Life is just so… hard.

I want to rest.

Alas… another day comes… and, trudge, trudge, trudge… oh, look, another portal!

Oh, yeah…and, I know., I usually post some sort of arty visual with my blog posts but… I couldn’t be bothered to do that either.  I only had enough energy for the words. You all know what I look like by now anyway.

Sometimes You Just Gotta (What Music Therapy Looks Like)

I’ve said it before…but, it bears repeating (and repeating, and repeating). Music is powerful. It’s spiritual and can be meditative and healing to body, as well as to mind, soul and spirit. Music therapy is a way to use music as medicine, very specifically and effectively. Playing a hand drum increases blood flow (circulation), singing is good for the lungs and nervous system. But that’s just one aspect (and only two examples). We’ve all heard how “music soothes the savage beast”. This isn’t just a saying. There is good medical science behind such a phrase. In making music, we can focus energy positively and that flow of positive energy and vibration can help manage conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well as being a good therapy for those of us who suffer from mood and personality disorders. Music IS powerful. I made this video to extol the virtues of music therapy and showcase just some of the healing benefits of making music.

A Beautiful Experience

Last night I had a unique experience. I played to a group of people who appreciated my music. This is in stark contrast to having people be outwardly impressed by my voice or inwardly jealous of my talent. It was different to any other time of either secularly performing or “spiritually ministering”.

In the church, people either show off their talent (in an “I’m better than you” sort of way) and boast in it (in the name of God, of course) or they have some sort of false humility and run from anything that smacks of either fame OR true appreciation for the gifting. And, no one would admit it, but the jealousy is everywhere. And, also, no matter what they say, they are waiting for you to impress them. At least that’s the way it was at the last church I went to.

Secularly, you better be impressive. They want to be ENTERTAINED. “Come on! Entertain me!” and the awareness of music as a spiritual gift that has something to impart is lost to the entertainment. I like to entertain, but there is so much more to music…to the innate power of music. It is healing. It is therapy. Entertainment is such a shallow side to it. And, entertainment should NOT be confused with fun. Fun is almost always entertaining (and healthy) while entertainment is not always fun (or healthy). The proven practices of music therapy should be ample proof of this.

Last night was not a “Autumn, that was nice, but could you do something else?” “Oh, not your stuff, Autumn…sing us something we KNOW!” (Well, ahem, you’d KNOW it if you LISTENED to it!) In other words, “Could you not be you but what we want you to be?” It can be a very soul-crushing experience.

Last night, gently singing Journey’s End for a local meditation group, it was as if the song – and I – was received as a gift. There was not an attitude of, “impress me, entertain me, but/and, if you do, I’ll hate you for it”; there was a refreshing, delightful attitude of…thankfulness. There was a pure receptiveness that fed MY soul. I felt like I was, in truth, ministering in music.

I was glad to give, but I received most of all. It was beautiful. And, it was very worth a note of blogging about.

Have I Ever?!

Life is nothing if not amusing at times.  I haven’t participated in a Daily Prompt in…well, I don’t rightly recall the last time.  I was on my way back to bed (not feeling close to well today) when the thought occured to me, “If the Daily Prompt has something to do with making music, I will post.”  And, lo and behold.  I had to laugh out loud when I read today’s Daily Prompt in my email, We Got the Beat, which asks (and instructs), “Have you ever played in a band? Tell us all about that experience of making music with friends.”

I won’t point out the obvious (oh, ok, I will…some people don’t know me from a hole in the ground, so… I’m a singer/songwriter and I have been off and on, throughout my life, a professional vocalist (professional simply means getting paid for what you do) since the age of 4). One could say I was born into a band.

Singer/Songwriter Autumn Dawn Leader at age 6

Singer/Songwriter Autumn Dawn Leader at age 6

Daughter of a professional vocalist and musician, as soon as I showed both the ability and the passion to sing, my mother “signed me up” to sing with her, lending harmonies, or taking the lead so she could do the harmonies.  She directed various choirs and choral groups, and I often lended a strong voice to these, as well.  I was in a variety of the trio groups she put together. Harmony is fun (one of the reasons I love to do my own backing vocals on recordings) and, as much as I like the spotlight and solo work, a good vocal group can be what I call a good time. Of all the people I have made music with, I probably enjoyed making it with my mother the most.  An ocean separates us now, so we don’t get to work together. I miss it.

The Chairs

When I moved to the UK, I managed to get a solo gig – a one off which didn’t amount to any more jobs.  So, I got a day job and did the nine to five where I met a computer tech who also played bass in two bands, one of which was losing their lead vocalist due to wanting to go solo.  I auditioned for them. I got the job (all of this one could read in my bio on my website…hint, hint).  I sang with The Chairs for nearly 2 years until the break up of the band (we lost our drummer and the keyboardist who started the band was getting bored, I think).  I enjoyed working with such excellent musicians and I was sad when my time with The Chairs ended. But, I’m still in touch with Ivor, the bassist, and we catch up and play together from time to time. It’s always a joy.

Making music with Bob…

Making music together is an intimate thing. Music is powerful. It’s more of a spiritual force – it transends the natural and temporary. Music belongs to the soul, belongs to the eternal. It can forge bonds…. and I get attached.  Of recent times I have played and sang in both a folk/acoustic band and a worship band with a couple of people that I miss very much now that – due to life and illness and the illness of life taking weird and agonising turns – I am no longer playing with.  This is a sadness. Attachment is dangerous. Playing in a band can teach you this. Painfully, but you learn the lesson.

I figure that before I leave this plane of existence I will play with others (oh, yeah, that’s another thing… musicians love the inuendo) once more.  But, right now, I am solo… making music, on my own. I make it because I am it. I was born into it. I was born of it… I make it because I’m made of it. I believe in it.  It’s more than what I do (but it is the only marketable thing I can do); it is who I am. I am the band.

A Private Audience

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This afternoon I sat down at the piano and played and sung some of my songs, for myself.

Not rehearsing. Not working on new arrangements. Just enjoying the music, the lyrics and – yes, I’ll say it – the sound of my own voice.

Now, performing for a crowd is one of the biggest delights in my existence. When I’m not doing it on a regular basis, it isn’t long before I feel a piece is missing; I appreciate every opportunity I am given to do what I love doing. It’s more than “entertaining”. While I believe that the songs I write and I sing in my shows are good and that my voice is unique, powerful and moving, I don’t know if, honestly, “entertaining” is the right word. I kind of think if I’ve merely entertained an audience, I haven’t succeeded in what I’ve come to do. Not that there is anything wrong with entertainment…it’s just that music is soooo much MORE than that. Or, it can be so much more than that (because music is spiritual in nature). However, if someone has come for nothing more than to be entertained – and that is all they receive – so be it; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed (at least, I hope not), but I always endeavour there to be more there…to touch deeper, to go further, to leave fingerprints on the fabric of the soul which is beyond the ability of entertainment alone. And, when I listen to music or go to a concert, I am always personally disappointed if all that happened was that I was entertained.

So, today, it wasn’t about a little distraction (escape) from the relentless frustration of my (crappy) day, to come aside and amuse myself for a bit. It might have started that way, but it ended with feeding my soul and lifting it above the muck and mire (that’s the real power of music). These are songs with substance. Some are sad. Some are hopeful and comforting and encouraging. Some are prayer. All are honest expression. And, as I sat and played out the sorrows of the day, I was both performer and audience – and it was nothing so small as entertainment: this was important; this was therapy.

Embarrassment (And What Does It Have To Do With Ducks?)

Image“Like water rolling off a duck’s back”, so the old saying goes. I’m not much like a duck (well, other than I may waddle a bit when I walk, and then there’s that quacking thing…and, my lips, of course). I wish I was more like a duck. How great it would be to have bad experiences just roll off like so much water and not be affected because my God-designed waterproof feathers keep me from getting soaked, damaged and overwhelmed by the badness.

I wish I was more like a duck.

Last night I had a rather embarrassing, humiliating and demoralising experience. To make matters worse, this pickle I found myself in was not my fault (hey, I’ll hold my hands up and admit often I’m the one to blame for my pain, but this time it wasn’t the case). I cried most of the night, kept awake by my anguish.

The whole episode reminded me of a time when I was about 15 years of age and was to sing at a special meeting for Veteran’s Day. Now, I have always been good (or, at least I was so when I was younger) at remembering my words. I never forgot one. Up until that night, when almost every word in the song flew out of my head in an instant leaving me up there blinking into the spotlight while no words came out of my mouth. Some people blamed my age or lack of experience; the truth was I had been singing professionally since the age of four. I had no excuse. This, unlike last night’s experience, was my fault. I had no one else to blame but myself. The experience marked me. I was so embarrassed it made me sick. I have never fully recovered from that night over 20 years ago. So much for “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, eh? What a load of bull-poo!

Of course, that experience when I was 15 was not the end of my musical career. The fact that I was so young worked in my favour even if people were mistaken in thinking that it was youth – and therefore – inexperience that had caused my nightmare situation that night.

Last night was the same, but different. I didn’t forget my words. And, there was very little I could have done to change it other than to not sing at all or stop when my guest accompanist began the song we were doing in the wrong key forcing me to sing it way out of my comfortable contralto range (where we had rehearsed it – and, man, it sounded awesome in rehearsal). The song was part of a bigger programme, so it wouldn’t have done to stop and start again – so, the professional “went on with the show”. Of course, there’s no explaining this to people who don’t understand music. I simply sounded crap (“who told her she could sing?”). There was no way to save my musical/vocal reputation. For this night, and those people, it was ruined. And this time it wasn’t even my fault.

Now, I don’t want anyone to get the mistaken idea that I am badmouthing my extremely talented keyboardist. The man is simply talent on legs. He played what he played absolutely exceptionally (and any decent second soprano could have handled it easily and beautifully, but I am a contralto) it was just, unfortunately (for me and my rep), the wrong key. Believe me, there’s a lot of difference between F and C.

I sobbed most of the night, feeling kicked in the teeth by life again – marked, irrevocably, and not feeling in the least bit duck-like. Humilation is just so utterly sh*tty!

I didn’t get much sleep, obviously. But, after I did mercifully drop off to sleep in the wee hours of the morning, surprisingly enough I woke up without immediately starting to cry again (although, I did tear up a bit as the morning progressed), and I felt led to read Lamentations from the Bible (well, if anyone is lamenting, it would be me…).

Lamentations: 3:14-24:

My own people laugh at me. All day long they sing their mocking songs. He has filled me with bitterness and given me a bitter cup of sorrow to drink. He has made me chew on gravel. He has rolled me in the dust. Peace has been stripped away, and I have forgotten what prosperity is. I cry out, “My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the Lord  is lost!” The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord  never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord  is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”

Well! Here I am rolling around in the dust like Jeremiah the prophet was, humiliated, in sorrow and pain…yet. What a great word that is. Yet. Jeremiah chose hope again and so can I. Why? One reason:

am

loved.

I remembered my grandfather when he would comfort me when I was little, and he’d say, “You’s bein’ wuv-ved” (wuvved – pronounced like wuvv-ed). He didn’t have a speech impediment and he was quite well-spoken and a very intelligent and well-educated man. But, when he was affectionate with his family, he used language like this with us. I still hear him say it, though he has been gone these many years, when I feel very vulnerable and very unloved. “You’s bein’ wuvved.”

This morning it was as if my Heavenly Father was saying to me, “Autumn, there’s hope. All is not lost. This situation has affected you greatly and maybe you can never forget it, but you can put it behind you today and start afresh, because you’s bein’ wuvved.”

So, we have established that I am not much like a duck where it counts but I am somewhat like an ancient prophet. We have pretty much made it clear that humilation sucks big time, and – judging from past experience – we can pretty much assume that I am not likely to “get over” it anytime soon. YET. We have seen yet. And, that one little word makes a big difference going forward, because I can’t go back and change anything.

Thank God for yet, for hope, for grandfathers, for music, for ducks and, most of all, for wuv.