How Can We Keep from Singing: Finding and Living Your Life's Passion

How Can We Keep from Singing: Finding and Living Your Life's Passion

by Joan Oliver Goldsmith
Walt Whitman wouldn't have to strain his ears to hear America singing. Over twenty million Americans sing publicly in a choir, chorus, or other ensemble. In an irresistible writing voice, Joan Oliver Goldsmith celebrates the world of song. She brings the reader inside the music she loves, to share the physical joys and agonies of making harmonious sound and the


Walt Whitman wouldn't have to strain his ears to hear America singing. Over twenty million Americans sing publicly in a choir, chorus, or other ensemble. In an irresistible writing voice, Joan Oliver Goldsmith celebrates the world of song. She brings the reader inside the music she loves, to share the physical joys and agonies of making harmonious sound and the sensual pleasures of hearing it. She shares her inspirations and wisdom -- about making mistakes, about courage and difficulty, about teaching, friendship, self-knowledge, and the essential elements of creativity. When Goldsmith observes conductors, she gives insight into leadership, and when she participates in the chorus she intuits the essence of great "followership." Finding the range in which it's most comfortable to sing, she discovers, is linked to finding one's home in other areas of life and work. Above all, Goldsmith teaches us to listen to ourselves, and not to hold back in playing the "invisible instrument" of the creative spirit -- whether in writing poetry, restoring old cars, planting a garden, or singing a good old song.

Editorial Reviews

Bobby McFerrin
'Singing for your life' is what Goldsmith's book is all about. Read it and sing!
Library Journal
Citing a National Endowment for the Arts survey, Goldsmith reports that over 20 million Americans perform in choral groups a large potential readership for her unusual book. A classically trained singer who abandoned singing for the business world, she was depressed, broke, and alone when a call to audition for the Minnesota Chorale, a highly respected amateur choral group, brought her back from the edge. Her personal story, however, is only a framework for the substance of the book, which celebrates creativity, camaraderie, and the courage to participate rather than to be only a passive consumer of professionally produced music. There are insights for knowledgeable musicians and clear explanations for neophytes a little history, a little theory, a little pedagogy, some soul-baring, and much humor. Singers will find themselves thinking, "Yes that's it exactly," as the author puts into words what is paradoxically an intensely personal experience shared with others in a public setting the joy and spiritual nourishment that come from singing. Difficult to describe or categorize, this small book will strike a chord with musicians and should find a place in most public libraries. Kate McCaffrey, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
And why, pray tell, should we? Goldsmith (who sings in a number of chorales and orchestras) offers a paean to the creative spirit-particularly to raising one's voice in joyful (or lowering it in mournful) song. Amateurs are the folks Goldsmith is talking about, those who are not professionals but simply in love: "The passionate, committed, talented, frequently unpaid or underpaid workers who make possible the great things in life." No money, no limelight, a vicious learning curve, but still they play that invisible instrument of the spirit-for Goldsmith it is singing, for others it might be tuning a car to perfection or vinifying a peerless white wine-so that their soul does not wither but becomes the instrument of something higher, taken on a sacred assignment. Here, the author collects a memoir of sorts, snippets from her singing life that grope toward an understanding of her compulsion beyond the simple facts that it feels good and natural to sing. Most resonant is "tessitura"-wherein a singer finds a home in a particular range-but Goldsmith extends beyond soprano and alto to enfold the very act of singing. Nor is it small potatoes that to sing is her saving grace. "What gets me through the dark days is not Schubert lieder, but the songs of slaves," this after the slapping, if elliptical, no-joke comment: "So. Not today. I walk back, look up ‘suicide' in the phone book, and dial the crisis center number." Goldsmith also includes episodes in her singing career and minor aphorism she has gathered along the way, such as the fertility to be found in the compost of wrong notes, the love-hate (and everything between, though mostly love) experience of forming a quartet, and the whyof practice. Not an inspirational tract, but a fervid prodding to sing, sing on.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
5.69(w) x 8.32(h) x 0.89(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Overture: Playing the
Invisible Instrument

                      When I make music, adventures happen.I sit at the feet of a grand old lady of spirituals, who tells storiesof escaped slaves and Carnegie Hall recitals. I find myself onstage in Mexico City singing Mahler's glorious Symphony of aThousand, while tenors stumble offstage to throw up in convenientlyplaced buckets. I am awed by the rich contributions madeby the not famous—the fifteenth violinist, the accompanist, thesingers in the chores—the multitudes of voices who singBeethoven's Ninth at Orchestra Hall, but never Mimì at the Met.We teach, drive school buses, write corporate brochures, whateverit takes—but we keep singing.

    We're everywhere—the passionate, committed, talented, frequentlyunpaid or underpaid workers who make possible the greatthings of life. We're the utility infielder, the middle manager, thesmall-enterprise entrepreneur.

    We are described by what we do, not by labels like professionalor amateur. We work with craftsmanship and artistry. Wecreate excellence. But for whatever reason—lack of luck, overweeningambition, the physiology that creates an operatic-sizevoice or Olympic athlete—we do not make it to the top.

    We do not become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. It's hardfor us to believe we have significance as individuals. After all,when we getsick, the show goes on and the audience doesn'teven notice. Yet collectively, we are indispensable and sometimesmagnificent.

    Without us, the CEO would not have a company nor the conductoran instrument. A lonely picture, that: the conductor dancingup there on the podium, waving his or her arms, reaching forsound and receiving none, because the not famous suddenlystopped.

    We have a particular kind of courage—not the courage ofthose who climb mountains, but the courage of those who showup and practice. Not every day, perhaps, or even every year. Wetake time off to attend to loved ones or earn a living or indulgeour exhaustion—but once that's accomplished, back we come. Itpuzzles and amazes me. The obvious rewards—money andrecognition—aren't there, and the price is high. It would be somuch less trouble to sit home and watch television.

    The reason for this glorious insanity, it seems to me, hassomething to do with an invisible instrument we all carry inside—a creative spirit that must be expressed if the soul is not to diea slow, bleak death.

    If you find yourself pulled beyond all practicality towarddoing something—writing poetry, building a business, restoringold cars, planting a secret garden; if at four in the morning theright word comes to you, the perfect flower to plant in that particularspot—you are playing your invisible instrument.

    For me, the invisible instrument manifests through the voice,that mysterious sound maker composed of vocal cords, lips,tongue, breath, and spirit. It's a peculiar and fascinating instrument,a peculiar and fascinating life.

    There is never enough time. It is harder than you ever imagined.You are never as good as you want to be. And if tonight wasnearly perfect, watch out, because tomorrow you may slip up andcommit the chorister's greatest sin—singing an "unpaid solo."

    Always, always they will ask you to give more—more concentration,more purity of sound, better line, finer adagio. Theywill ask and you will ask it of yourself. You will especially askyourself what you are doing here after a hard day's work at yourday job, when you don't feel that good anyway, and your spouseis mad at you, and your kids say you never get anything right,and there isn't enough money to pay all of the bills. Then suddenlyit flows—a bar, a phrase, perhaps even a whole movement—andyou are the physical instrument of something higher.

    Then you know again creation's assignment: to learn thenotes, to find your music. The invisible instrument is the oneinstrument we must all learn to play.

Excerpted from How Can We Keep from Singing by Joan Oliver Goldsmith. Copyright © 2001 by Joan Oliver Goldsmith. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

The Weight of the Yen
How Denial Imperils America's Future and Ruins an Alliance



Copyright © 1996 R. Taggart Murphy. All rights reserved.

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