On being a chorister, and what I pay for that.

Pretty much the first thing I do in the morning is turn the radio on: ABC Classic FM’s breakfast programme. I then sit at my desk and write for half an hour before I commence the process of preparing myself for what my day will bring. It’s a nice way to begin: music and writing.

One of the things that I’ve been wrestling with – that I struggled desperately with in the sprint to the finish line that was Advent and Christmas, demanding and intense and exhausting – has been how difficult it is to sing. How painful. How debilitating it has been to find that the PTSD symptoms are so much more intrusive and disruptive when I sing: the thing that kept me alive has been the thing that’s opened the door to flashbacks and anxiety attacks and it seems that I coped better with domestic violence when I was living it than once I escaped. I honestly thought about simply cutting my losses, quitting the choir and letting the loss of indescribable richness be fair payment for the loss of indescribable pain.

Only, the other morning, I was listening to ABC Classic FM, and suddenly I was surrounded by the silvered strains of a choral Ave Maria. Renaissance, probably – my musical theory is not good enough to date it precisely, but the glory of the unaccompanied polyphony – intertwining melodies vibrant with radiant yearning – filled my mind and soul and I found myself brimming with the power of the music, like a seedling which can break through concrete in its longing for the brightness above.

Music like this, over the time I’ve been in the choir, has become my staple diet. Each week, each rehearsal and service, revolves around music like this: small human creations which, like a tarnished mirror, reflect the Divine and in doing so become divine themselves. Music which fills my soul with breathtaking heaven, and with breathtaking pain. And, listening to this musical prayer, exquisite in its agony, I found myself thinking: How can I possibly leave the choir? How can I yield to the burden of these symptoms, the weight of this diagnosis and its reality, if it means that in doing so, I cut this music out of my own soul? How could I possibly mutilate myself in such a way? I’d be better of stepping off the edge of the cliffs that mark the sheer rocky border between land and sea. The only difference is that the death as a result of that action would be physical. I think I’d rather that than the death of my soul that would result from the severing of such music from its very core.

Because I am a chorister. No matter how hard it is, how painful; no matter what memories rise to the surface with all the brutality of a thorn tearing through flesh or what emotions sever their way to the surface, I cannot not sing. Because I am a chorister. I could no more cut that music from my soul than I could cut my heart from my body, or my brain from my head. That’s what I am; so that’s what I do.

Which leaves me with one path: to persevere, to sing, regardless of the pain which has overwhelmed the joy, and to hope to God that it gets easier and that, once more, singing becomes a source of vitality and animating spirit in my life. Because, up until Christmas, it was an opening for pain, and fear, and shame, and grief. But surely – surely, she whispers fervently – what once gave me life will continue to do so, if only I can persevere.

All I can do is hope. And, in the meantime, show up to rehearsal and sing.


2 thoughts on “On being a chorister, and what I pay for that.

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