Swan Song for a Writer?

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything on my blog for quite some time. I have written a number of drafts, the topics of which, though interesting up to a point, haven’t really grabbed me. It might be the topics (my blog posts don’t have a particular angle or theme to them) or it might be that writing doesn’t speak to me in quite the same way as it once did.

What does is music. In fact, that’s how I’m spending most of my free time: in singing and playing. A few years ago, I joined an awesome no-auditions choir. Now, one would think that a choir that doesn’t require auditions wouldn’t be very good. That may be true in some cases, but not in this one. This choir of over 90 voices is awesome, and the music has been a revelation. If you had told me three years ago that I would be singing such complex pieces as Haydn’s Harmoniemesse, Vivaldi’s Gloria, or Rutter’s Requiem (and not only just managing – truly doing well), I would have waved my hand at you and said, “Yeah, right!”

Funny thing is, when I was a child in elementary school and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would invariably say, “A singer.” I was in my elementary school and junior high school choirs, and sang in musicals in high school (Music Man, Oklahoma!) though never in a lead part. Then, in college, I joined the University of Pennsylvania Balalaika Orchestra, a wonderful ensemble of soprano, alto and bass balalaikas (the bass balalaika: picture a huge triangle with strings), mandolins, and a few guitars. We performed at Penn’s Irvine Auditorium, and one year, sitting alone on stage and dressed like a Russian peasant woman (complete with babushka), I sang a hauntingly beautiful Russian love song while strumming on my soprano balalaika, a la Dr. Zhivago.

Then I joined Ananda Marga, and my musical endeavors took a back seat to world-saving and teaching meditation. Somehow, I did find time to teach myself how to play the guitar and write a bunch of devotional songs. A few years before I left the group, I managed to get five or six musically inclined didis and dadas (monks and nuns) to do a tape with me. I decided to call it “Countless Shores,” and I had a cover designed, but that was as far as it went. (I still have the master tape, done on a souped-up CD player, stashed away somewhere.)

Getting back to the present, there’s another musical group I’ve joined, a bunch of musicians who get together every month in what they call an “Open Circle” to sing and play guitars and other instruments. The way it works is everyone sits in a circle and takes turns singing and playing, or just singing, or just playing, or just requesting a song. Having this monthly commitment gets me to practice guitar regularly and learn a new song or two well enough that I sound halfway decent by the time the next Open Circle comes around.

Practicing for both choir and open circle takes a lot of time. The choir especially requires a significant time commitment. You can’t just show up to rehearsal every week and expect to learn the music in time for the performance. You have to practice at home – from study CDs, online study tracks, or on your own piano – and if you’re not ready to put in that kind of time, then a choir of this quality is not for you.

Putting in the time. Just like writing. The difference for me between the two, though, is that I never dread sitting down (or standing up) to sing. And while I have experienced my share of writer’s block, I’ve never heard of or experienced anything called “singer’s block.” Those of you who know how long it took me to write my memoir, The Orange Robe, and why, know that I am perhaps too much of a perfectionist. I wrote draft after draft after draft, almost driving myself crazy with even the tiniest of editing details, and when you do that for a 350-page book, that indeed adds up to a lot of revising and editing! For someone who edits the hell out of everything she writes, it’s wonderfully refreshing to just pick up my music and sing. And another thing: writing can be such a lonely process. Singing in a choir or group is the opposite of lonely, and it’s uplifting and inspiring to add one’s voice to others and create something beautiful.

“Swan song” in my dictionary is defined as “the last act, final creative work, etc. of a person, as before retirement or death.” Well, I’m not soon to retire or die, as far as I know. And I haven’t entirely given up writing. I write all the time in my head; it’s just getting to the paper (well to the computer screen) that sometimes takes me more time now than it used to. Not only that, the main character of a novel I’m writing has been clamoring for attention, and I won’t be able to put him off for too much longer. So I know I haven’t given up writing for good. How could I? I’ve written this, haven’t I?