"We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest."I find that, by acknowledging that I can't do everything, I am freed from the responsibility of trying to do everything. This also comes with the reminder that, of the things I am able to do, I don't have to do all of them right now. I can focus on one thing at a time and do that to the best of my ability.
This applies well to the voice studio, since I teach one student at a time, each of whom requires guidance and instruction that is individualized. I can't give my students everything they need, and I am aware that what I am able to offer them is often incomplete. But it can be a step along the way, which can lead to another step, which may lead to yet another step. Maybe that's just Newton's first law of motion at work (...an object in motion stays in motion...) or maybe it's something akin to grace.
This was the impetus behind my first assignment to all of you when it was first announced that we would be moving our lessons online: Given the current circumstances, what are two or three vocal goals you can work on for the rest of the semester? Faced with a new normal, I knew that it may not be realistic to try to adhere to the same goals as at the start of the semester. However, I also know that, in order to "do something and do it very well," we have to first identify what that "something" is.
Even so, Untener offers this caveat in an earlier section of "Prophets of a Future Not Our Own":
"No set of goals and objectives includes everything."So, even when we identify the "something" we intend to do very well, it's likely that even those efforts will be incomplete. I'm choosing to view that as liberating, as well.
Untener's reflection continues:
"This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities."The image of seeds growing is so familiar in education as to have become cliché. But, we can tie it into the stages of learning. In some of your skills, you are just planting a seed. In other skills, you are nurturing a small, budding plant. In other skills, you are harvesting fruit. You can't get fruit from a seed you have just planted, but you can water that seed, give it sunshine, and keep the weeds at bay so that it has the best chance to reach full growth.
Untener's reflection concludes:
"We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own."Although we may aspire to be master builders in our craft, the best artists I know still consider themselves to be workers, reaching toward greater "end results" that they may or may not ever reach. That future is not their own since they can't dictate what the ultimate results of their efforts will be. All they can do is continue to lay foundations that they know will need further development.
In another sense, we build our voices so that our songs can be released into the world. We can never know the full impact they will have, how they will be received, or how they will be remembered. All we can do is infuse our singing with the greatest skill and greatest intentions we can manage and hope that it will reach people in meaningful ways.
We are living in a time when "reaching people" is increasingly difficult and yet vitally important. In this global pandemic, too many lives have been lost, questions linger about the future that no one can reliably answer, and our "normal" has been permanently altered. While life is weighed down by these concerns and we feel the sting of isolation, we rely even more on tools of connection, especially those that artists provide.
We can't do everything. But let's keep doing something. It will be incomplete and we may never see the end results of our work. But it will be a step along the way, planting seeds for a future not our own.
This was a semester unlike any other. As the world turned upside down, it was a privilege to continue to hear your voices.