My exercise guru and dear friend, Eric (pictured here) relayed a story to me the other day. A friend had called him and asked, "Who you bein' today?"
He grinned and said, "I know it's bad English. But you get the point, right?"
With that, we launched into one of the typical existential/philosophical conversations that accompany our workouts. To be honest, it's my favorite part of working out with Eric: he challenges my thinking in addition to increasing my physical strength.
Eric inspires me. He walks the walk with his job, his family, his spiritual life. I think differently after working with him for 6+ years. Because of him, I approach many things with more discipline. So when he asked, "Who you bein' today?", I took it seriously despite his jovial tone.
I've been pondering that question quite a bit over the past two weeks. After my college reunion at Westminster Choir College, I have been pretty emotional. There were many tears shed during several of the choir concerts and at commencement. Within a few bars of Williamson Voices opening their mouths, I was pretty much a puddle. The weekend was filled with music and its accompanying flood of memories. There were friends I hadn't seen in 25 years, and we picked up where we left off. It was beautiful, wrenching, and fulfilling in ways I can't begin to describe. The embarrassing thing was that I rarely had enough tissues.
Everyone thinks their alma mater is special, and I'm no exception. Westminster is a profound place that molds young musicians through rigorous training and uncompromising values. When the choir regularly performs with the NY Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic (and the list goes on), there are very high expectations. When your summers are spent as part of the choir in residence for the Spoleto Festival USA and (back in my day) the Festival Dei due Mondi in Italy, you don't think of summer as "time off." It's time to further perfect your craft, and witness world-class performance up close.
Imagine being away from that for 25 years. Now imagine the personification of those expectations mere feet from you, singing their hearts out. It's one thing to listen to the CDs, which are naturally beautiful. It is quite another to feel their sound fill your being and vibrate in your chest. Seeing the commitment on these students' faces and the passion in their eyes made their gorgeous sound all the more incredible. These are college-aged people who aren't worried about the pitches, the dynamics, the phrasing, or the diction during their concerts. No, they worked that out weeks or even months ago. The building blocks of their music making were perfected during hours of rehearsal. The concert is the time to unleash the power of their emotion via the music. The concert is the time to find new nuances that they can bring to the music, because they know it so well. The concert is the time for them to mine their souls for authenticity, so that it comes out through their voices. Integrity, depth, immediacy. These are hallmarks of most Westminster performances.
I am (and all of us Westminster grads are) bound spiritually to all of those people who taught there, and to those with whom we sang, who saw something in all of us that we may have been incapable of seeing when we were young adults. As my dear friend and fellow alum Lynne said so eloquently, time and space are more connected than we understand, and the music we made at Westminster transcends time and space. Remembering this helps me refocus as I re-enter my life apart from that magical little place in Princeton.
Who am I bein' today? The answer came unbidden, and almost without thought. I told Eric that today, and hopefully every day, "I am Westminster."
In response to that, Eric said, "That is a huge thing to say." I guess it is.
The best part of being back at Westminster was feeling like I finally remembered who I was. The worst part is that I ever forgot, even for a moment. It can be easy to forget, I suppose, in the everyday grind. But Eric reminded me that I bring with me every day the dedication and focus that was forged in the cauldron of Westminster. Even the daily things that feel mostly automatic could be traced back to my roots at Westminster in many ways, whether it's how I practice, tend to my health, teach, study, or live. It's a huge responsibility to live up to that.
There have been and there will be many days when I fall short of the bar that was set when we were just figuring out who we were. But if I aim for that bar, in everything I do, then at least I'm on the right path. Here is my public commitment to do so. My beloved teachers and mentors would have required it of me; it's my job to require it of myself.
Who am I bein' today?