Only Sing The Notes You Have

After Mass yesterday, Elena and I were recalling a not very pleasant musical experience we had one Christmas. The singer at the Mass we had attended that year made a valiant effort at singing “O Holy Night,” but listening to her try (and fail) to hit some of the notes was painful. Cringing at the memory, Elena observed, “you shouldn’t sing a high note unless you have one.” Prompting me to add, “Only sing the notes you have.” Elena nodded and we both laughed at the realization of the obviousness of the point – and the frequency with which it is ignored.

Only sing the notes you have. Advice that is not only applicable to singers, but to everyone. Develop the gifts you have and appreciate those. Trying to sing notes we don’t have is a prescription for personal dissatisfaction and deprives the world of what we can best contribute.

I’m not saying we don’t sometimes have to develop our gifts; we don’t always immediately realize what we have, and over time we discover gifts we didn’t know we had. (I remember Elena telling me during her summer voice program at Salzburg that she discovered she has another note at the high end of her range.)

But at some point we need to admit that there are some gifts we don’t have and never will. And that’s OK. And that our task is to sing the notes we have – joyfully and fully.

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