Fear vs. Excitement

Yesterday I had the opportunity to be song leader in my church’s 9:00 a.m., “blended” worship service. The song leader doesn’t “direct” the singing, like my father did as a seminary-degreed Minister of Music in Baptist churches. The person who “leads” the congregational singing in my Presbyterian church, as in others I know of, is only required to sing the songs with confidence from a position in the front of the worship area. Her voice is mic’d as she takes the “lead”, inviting other worshipers to join in.

Several times before, I have served as solo song leader at “the 9:00”, and I sing in an eclectic style band that leads 9:00 music once a month. So this is not really that big of a deal.

But back in June, a few weeks after I agreed to lead the singing on this date in July, I received a surprise from Susan, the church staffer/pianist who is responsible for the music: “I forgot to ask you. When I asked you to song lead, I also wanted you to sing a solo for Offertory. Are you up for that?”

OK, this wasn’t that big of a surprise either. During the summer, none of the choirs or musical ensembles (hand bell, instrumental, band) rehearse or appear in the services. Leading singing in summer months usually also means preparing the anthem or special music.

Well, I’ve done some solo work as part of the band and on the odd occasion otherwise. In my voice’s much younger days, I even sang for a friend’s wedding.

But I’m always nervous when my voice is that exposed.

Yet, one of the reasons I always liked to sing in a small group is that unlike blending into a larger choral group, as the only one singing my part, my voice will be heard, my voice counts, my contribution matters. At least it does to me.

And for me, that’s the joy as well as the anxiety in it!

The song I chose for the Offertory was one I’d suggested for the band. We had worked on it now and then, but it had never come together for the group. This was my chance to do it anyway, but it needed more than just piano accompaniment. Susan polled the availability of the instrumentalists and came up with the drummer, bass player, and a lead guitarist. Perfect. While I like for my voice to be heard, I also appreciate the support of other musicians—the enhancement provided in their talents, as well as the moral support of their presence.

Due to our various schedules, however, we had only one chance to rehearse together before July 3rd.

But I need all the practice I can get! This song is pitched low in my range—too low. The key was one reason it had never worked for the band. Also I’ve not felt good about my voice quality for more than a year now. I noticed the difference not long after I started taking allergy shots. Did that have something to do with it? Or had I just become a lazy singer? Do I give in to the anxiety too easily? Or worse, is it the dreaded effects of natural aging? Regardless, I had committed to do this and it was entirely up to me to figure out how the heck I was going to pull it off.

I found the original artist’s performance on YouTube, and it became my soundtrack for the last few days before Sunday. I typed up the words from the sheet music to analyze the word and tune patterns that might help me commit the song to memory. These were concrete actions I could do to argue the anxiety out of my stomach.

But of course it persisted.

Then I made a kind of discovery or two. What I felt in my stomach was identical to the fear associated with my situation of unemployment. But it was also identical to what I feel in anticipation of something good and positive—the excitement when I receive a phone call from a guy I’m interested in, the prospect of seeing him the next time we go out, or the butterflies before setting off on a travel adventure.

How weird is that?! I experience the same “gut feeling” whether I’m afraid or excited. My stomach, my nerves don’t know the difference. The difference is obviously in how I think about what’s going on, how I perceive the situation as positive or negative. The difference is in my head.

So if I can perceive a feeling in my gut in more than one way, what if I decide to let the feeling be and view it as a sense of excitement? Anticipation of something good to come?

Just because I can’t manage to make the feeling go away, does that mean it has to make me uneasy? Is it just a mind game? Well, “just” is not the right word, because making a mental U-turn is not a simple task.

But I tried it for yesterday’s solo. When I woke to the alarm, yep, there was The Feeling. But not too bad. Deep breaths. I did all the usual get-ready-to-go activities, with a special prayer of thanks for the excitement in my stomach.

Warm-up rehearsal went well. The voice that filled the space surprised me. Was it mine? I had not heard that voice in quite a long time. That voice was confident. That was a joyful voice. That voice rose from the fear-re-formed excitement in my head and heart.

Fear? What fear? Fear has been redefined in my vocabulary. At least I’m working on inserting its new definition “excitement” in my dictionary, somewhere between “brain” and “stomach”.

    • Cora
    • July 4th, 2011

    You did so well. It was a great selection and a joy to hear. Thanks for leading worship.

      • Paula Robertson
      • July 4th, 2011

      Thank you, Cora. I’m glad you heard excitement, not fear. Praise God!

    • George Brown
    • July 4th, 2011

    I’m so happy it went well! I would have loved to have been there to hear it. I had wondered about it after you had told me that you were going to do it. Hooray for you!


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