Friday, June 24, 2011
Do you know of the grammy winning musical group from South Africa, Ladysmith Black Mambazo? I first heard them in junior high, when a substitute teacher in my choir class had us watch a film called “Spike Lee’s Do It A Capella.” The movie showcased a number of a capella groups—all of them dynamic, all of them talented. Among them, the most fascinating to me was Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I loved their deep, tribal harmonies and exotic sound. I loved the story of their name. I followed their career through the years—loving their collaborations with everyone from Paul Simon to Disney. I fancied myself a singer as a kid and I had this fantasy of going professional and performing with Ladysmith in something like this. I bought the Do It A capella soundtrack and memorized all the songs—trying to pick out various parts. “Someday,” I thought, “I am going to sing with Ladysmith Black Mambazo!”
As the years passed, my interests and focus changed. I would not become a professional singer, and that was okay. I got on with life, went to college, and studied the Humanities. I got married. I had a bunch of kids. I took up scrapbooking and knitting. But every time I listened to the Do It A Capella soundtrack, I’d indulge in the childish fantasy of singing with Ladysmith.
And then—I heard they were coming to perform in Nampa, Idaho. I was thrilled (and surprised they’d be coming to such a podunk town in Idaho in the first place.) There was NO WAY I was going to miss their performance. My hubby bought tickets and I jabbered to him the whole way over to the event about how much I had loved Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music as a kid, and how I had always wanted to sing with them and how excited I was to see them in person in what was practically my back yard.
We sat in the center of the fourth to last row in the small auditorium of the Nampa Civic Center. I always like to look around at the audience when I go to concerts, and in this case, I was very curious to see who else would attend a Ladysmith Black Mambazo concert. It was full of stuffy older people, whispering back and forth what they thought they knew about Ladysmith and full of themselves for coming to a “cultural event.” I wondered if I was the only genuine fan in the audience.
When the music started, I was practically bouncing out of my seat. The singers encouraged the audience to clap out rhythms with them and participate in the call and response songs. Surely, this was heaven! But to the singers’ frustration (and mine) the audience remained reserved in their participation. I think I was the loudest clapper and responder in the bunch—much to the chagrin of the people around me. I felt the pressure to sit quietly, and began to hold back. I became agitated. I really wanted to participate, but because of what I perceived as disapproval from the people surrounding me, I felt I had to stifle my enthusiasm.
Then, the singers began a song, inviting people from the audience to join them onstage. A couple of the singers left the stage to hand pick people from the audience out of the front row. I was desperately jealous of and excited for the people the singers were trying to engage. The singers weren’t having much luck convincing people to come up. Soon, I was disappointed and embarrassed to see that most of the people opted to remain seated. When the singers realized they weren’t going to get the adults to join them, they turned to recruiting kids—and finally got a couple of them up as they got into their song. Throughout the song, the singers continued trying to get folks to join them, moving to the edges of the third, fourth, and even fifth rows! I kept whispering fiercely to my husband that I wanted to go up. Here was my chance—here was my fantasy realized—I could really go up there and SING with my favorite musical group! He encouraged me to go, practically pushing me out of my seat. But by then, the song was nearly over and I would have had to climb over fifteen people, run up ten rows or so, and climb onstage. I would have looked really stupid and I would have annoyed the people I had to climb over. I would have caused a bit of a ruckus. What would they have thought of me?
So I stayed put. It killed me, but I couldn’t find the nerve to go up there. When the song ended, the singers helped the two kids and the one adult couple that eventually joined them back to their seats. I kept thinking that if they asked for volunteers to go up on stage again, I’d do it and to hell with the people that might get annoyed as I barreled up to the stage. But, the singers didn’t recruit any more people. They finished out their concert, and the curtain closed. I had missed my opportunity. I left what had been an amazing performance not elated and uplifted by the singers, but dejected and disappointed in myself. I had let fear of what others might think prevent me from fulfilling my dream. It had been quite literally within my grasp, and I had not seized it.
On the way home, I tried to mollify myself. There were a couple of call and response songs that the group had gotten the entire audience involved in. I had sung with the crowd when directed to, so technically, I had sung with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. But repeating a few choruses with a reluctant audience wasn’t the same as going up on stage, joining the beckoning singers, and singing my soul out.
I’ve thought a lot about that experience over the last couple of years. How many times have I had an opportunity to do something great, to be a part of something phenomenal, to do a bit of good, but not taken part because of fear of what others would think, or fear of my own inadequacy? And what have I ever gained from hanging back, not plunging in to something I’m passionate about? I vowed I would never let fear best me again and prevent me from fulfilling my dreams, because living in fear is not living at all.
When dreams call, grasp the hand of opportunity, regardless of fear, and sing your heart out.