YGS NEWS: Grief and Love
Updated: Aug 30
These days have been hard. For many. For many reasons.
For many choristers used to singing together regularly, it's been wave after wave of grief.
I ask you to consider context when hearing stories about choirs, choir directors, singers, and other artists and to call on kindness, caring, and patience. We are all experiencing the same storm of COVID-19 and we are all in different boats.
I don't know how this experience feels for you. For me, I've felt lost. Really, really lost. It's incredibly painful to not see you, not hear you, not hug you, not hear about your day and the little and big moments of your life.
Even in the midst of this isolation, there have also been many moments of quiet, calm, clarity, and reflection. Gifts in the grief.
I have important news to share with you today from this place of clarity and love, particularly to the members of the You Gotta Sing! Chorus. This news may come as a shock to you. I invite you to take your time reading this and process any stages of grief as they move through you over time. I know I have. Please take all the time you need as you read through this message.
Most importantly, I want you to know I am here. And, as soon as health officials say it's safe to do so, I'll be singing with you in person. While there is so much unknown about how and when this will happen, and when it will be safe again for us to do this, I know I will hold singing circles in community again. Human beings are singing beings. And we will continue, even in these difficult circumstances.
If we can’t be together in person, it’s pretty wonderful that we have the option of meeting online! My online Sing with Vanessa classes are continuing on Wednesdays at 7 PM and Thursdays at 1 PM. Singing together from our own spaces can still give a sense of joy and connectedness and keep us singing into our bodies and expanding our vocal skills and sense of wellbeing. I don’t want to skim over the grief of this time. Life is very strange these days. Online singing is a gift, and yet...
As a singing community, we have been connected in intimate ways. We've sung beside each other, felt our voices resonate, blend, and harmonize. We've shared our love of singing, of community. We've celebrated and grieved together. My last decade has been completely immersed in this singing community. Every day, and many of my waking moments have been spent in consideration, planning, dreaming, and feeling the immense wonder and responsibility of being at the helm of this mighty ship.
I've been dreaming and planning and visioning for the You Gotta Sing community for 10 years. And now, my own life is deepening, widening in ways that call me to listen to the need for change. As the founder and director of YGS, I know in my weary, proud bones that YGS has come to an end as a formal community chorus.
We have shared concerts, celebrations, community events, potlucks, private conversations, public laughs, tears, announcements, triumphs, heartbreak. We have restructured and reshaped and tried new things. We have served our wider community in countless ways, raised significant funds and made lasting, meaningful connections with each other and with local and global organizations doing incredible work in the world.
After a decade of this beautiful and very busy activity, I feel called home to the essence of who I am now. I am ready for smaller, quieter circles of singing without structured, cumulative rehearsals, and longer, composed choral arrangements, resulting in goal-oriented performance.
Those who know my work in Singing From The Well and Sing with Vanessa know there is a sweetness, a depth of wellbeing and musical joy that blooms in these more intimate singing circles. We are able to have eye contact with each other, move parts seamlessly, learn intensely interesting and simple music, and experience elevation, depth, and wonder. We create choir each time we gather, new songs emerge in the moment, new people and regulars join the circle from week to week or in weekend retreats. The form is free and open, all about process not performance. We sit in sections, we learn interesting music, mostly in the oral tradition. I've witnessed musical skills blossoming, am able to hear each person's voice blending with the whole and notice enhanced confidence in vocal abilities in sessions that are mostly paper-free (with some lyrics and some sheet music). These experiences are always open to every voice. No singing experience is necessary. We have all we need and it's a safe singing space. Just like always.
Singing in this way, being in the moment of song rather than working towards a performance of the song, calls me to enter the mystery of being wholly present in each breathing, sounding, listening moment. This is where I feel my body in fullness, no separation between my heart and another's heart. No separation between my voice and the air around me. No paper, no old rules, no dichotomies of good and bad, trained and untrained. Humans sounding together, mysteries of the heart celebrated, grief welling to the surface and moving the way it needs to, joy nourishing a community where everyone shows up equally in the circle.
This is the way I desire to live.
I can tell you now that YGS, these three letters, saved my life. You gave me a reason to come out into the world. You gave me a place to belong, a home for my voice and my vision. You accepted me as I was an imperfect, enthusiastic, impassioned, energized, musical being.
You are the community who held me, who helped me find myself, and find my voice. You are a resilient, warm-hearted, courageous, kind, funny, brilliant, loving people.
You are harmony. Each of you, have made my life so meaningful.
Our shared experiences are vividly memorable and nourishing. I hope they are sustaining you in some way during these trying times. These three letters, YGS, have a life of their own now. And I want them to be yours.
It's only now, at the 'end', that I can feel, truly feel, the immensity of what we have sung into being, the JOY we have raised in the world around us, the meaningful connections we have created. These three little letters, YGS, have big meaning and will always be yours, and mine.
Even in the sadness, my heart soars. I know we've reached the next place. Where the scaffolding of form is no longer needed. We believe singing is our birthright and we know, in our bones, that our unique voices together can make a positive difference in our world. We have done it. We will continue to do it. In new and brighter forms, in new choirs, in collaborations and creative projects that I can't even imagine at this moment.
I truly hope to sing with you again in circles, retreats, and individual sessions.
Please know I am still here, even though YGS has come to a formal end. I'm still teaching, leading, playing, singing, dancing in the middle of the circle waiting to lead you in the next beautiful moment of group harmony. I'll be continuing to offer inspiring, joyful singing online & bring Sing with Vanessa and my retreats to any communities who wish to continue singing with me in person. I envision continuing song circles in Dartmouth, Halifax, and Upper Tantallon, as there is interest. It is an honour to be with you in song, in community, in harmony.
I understand this is a challenging time. Please take care of yourself and reach out and share your feelings with someone you love and who gets how hard this time is for choristers, for singing people.
You are a valued, totally wonderful, harmony-filled person.
Thank you for saying yes to YGS. Please keep saying YES to all of the good memories, and keep connected to all your singing friends.
In the words of one of our choristers,
“What you give is ongoing and everlasting and carries through no matter the time and distance between gatherings. It only continues to grow – exponentially – never diminishing.”
Let us keep singing onward,
and I'll see you in the singing circle,
From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
"We feel like separate
but we are also ocean."
~ Jane Hirshfield