For about a year now, I’ve been working with a songwriter, producer, and rapper– we’ll call him K– who came to me wanting to be able to sing on his own tracks. So much so, that on our first day together, he told me about his commitment to release an album of vocal songs within a year or two’s time.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure about how well he’d do. He had a small and tense range, pitch issues, awkward register shifts and tones, and was in need of ear and interval training.
But he also brought a terrific mindset and work ethic to the table, as well as an amazing relationship to frustration. Mistakes never stopped or irritated him; he simply tried again and again. I’ve found his curiosity, humility and sense of play to be uncommon in intensive learning, in any field, and I’m inspired each and every time we are together.
We got into a flow early on, both of us working hard, and K made slow but steady progress. And while I of course never voiced my perception of his ability, or allowed it to influence my determination or encouragement of him, I definitely had ideas around how far he would and could go.
And then, one day last week, he surpassed my expectations.
And I mean, really surpassed them.
* * *
As any investor knows, when it comes to compound interest, you don’t immediately see the benefits. You add to the account bit by bit, with only the promise of the yields to come. You have to have a vision; you have to have patience, and faith.
And then, when the compounding does finally kick in, it kicks in.
The same is true of anyone who chooses to invest intensively in themselves, including singers committed to working their butts off, day after day, with their eyes on the prize rather than dwelling on and being distracted by moment-to-moment concerns about how they perceive they do or don’t sound.
My experience with K reminds me of my time with Maria, whom I wrote about in Chapter 7 of The Art of Singing. Similarly hard working and positive, after 9 months together– learning from one another and reveling in each other’s determination and excitement– she also surpassed my expectations.
But more than that, she surpassed me vocally.
* * *
As a teacher, it’s rewarding when students go beyond what we’ve imagined they can accomplish. But when they also surpass our own abilities, we know that we have done our job. As with children, it not only means that we are honoring and encouraging their inherent talents and skills. But as well, that we’re humble and committed enough to selflessly share all that we know and are in support of their personal trajectories, without thought or concern for ourselves or our own.
This requires constantly checking in with our own limitations, fears, and beliefs, as well as checking any pride, ego, and lurking (or overt) competitiveness at the door. Our job isn’t to be better, right, or even in charge. As teachers, therapists, parents, and helpers of every kind, our work is to hold the space in which people can grow and blossom in their own way and into their own greatness.
Including growing beyond the limits of our own imaginations.
Including growing beyond us.
* * *
As we were wrapping up our last session, K and I gazed at one another, both of us with tears in our eyes. We’d already talked about how far he’d come, and how proud we both were of him. There was nothing left to say… only to marvel at the distance he’d traveled, and how much farther we now both know he’ll continue on his journey to being an even more terrific singer, musician, and human being.