I remember the day very clearly. I had been called into the choir teacher’s office. She had a stern look on her face.
“You called for me?” I asked.
“Yes, David. What I have to tell you is difficult,” she said. “So, I will get straight to it. Nobody likes you right now.”
“Nobody likes me? Why is that?” I asked in disbelief.
“You have become entirely too arrogant.”
“Me, arrogant?” There must be some mistake, I thought. “I’m not arrogant. I’m confident,” I replied.
“David,” she said with amazing patience, “ even those you call your closest friends are having a hard time with you right now. Your attitude needs to change.”
Those are hard words for a 17 year old to hear. Especially when you…don’t believe a word of it. I knew in my heart that I wasn’t arrogant. I…was a good singer and all those people she was talking about…were jealous. Yeah. It was that bad.
To my shame, the above story is 100% true.
What I had never realized is there was something that had gotten me to the point of thinking that I was good…practice. I had a little bit of talent that was put to good use through a lot of practice. When I lost sight of that…I ended up in my teacher’s office.
Just a couple of years before that I was at the end of my Freshman year. I was nervous because I thought I could sing a little and showed up in the auditorium to try out for the choir. I had no idea of what I was doing, so I sang the first song that came into my head…The Star Spangled Banner.
Have you ever tried to sing that song? I didn’t realize that I had chosen something that was crazy hard to sing. My teacher, Mrs. Wilkins, listened to my audition with a smile. “You are new to singing, I can tell,” she said. “ Well, you changed keys about 12 times, but you have some talent that we can work with. Welcome to the choir.”
I was ecstatic. I found something that I enjoyed and had some aptitude for. I started to work hard to learn the music and get better. In that first year I even tried out for the Oklahoma All State choir. I tried my best. I remember waiting by the phone all weekend to hear the news. I didn’t make it. I was crushed. Something inside me had changed though. I wasn’t quitting now. Now it was serious. I had to get better.
The next summer I mowed yards to earn my way to a choir clinic that was being held. I practiced hard and made sure I was ready for the next All-State try out. My plan worked. I tried out. I made it. The practice had paid off. Soon, I had bought in to the hype and thought it was all because I was awesome.
It took the words of a wise teacher to get me back on track my senior year. So, I took her advice and I went back to work. Soon I had earned a full scholarship to sing in the university choir.
Not long after making it into university, I forgot those wise words and reverted back to some bad habits. It wasn’t long before it was very noticeable. I will give you an example: Have you ever sang next to someone who held their finger in their ear and scrunched up their face when they heard you singing? I have. I used to thing that the university choir was full of a bunch of stuck up people. I didn’t realize at the time that I was the problem. They knew that I hadn’t practiced. I thought I was good enough to wing it. They had put in the hard work. I was messing them up.
During that time I took voice lessons from Dr. Webster. Dr. Webster was an older gentlemen with a VERY deep voice. He could sing notes off the left side of the piano. He was a really amazing singer and a genuinely good man who I respected very much. He too had an uncomfortable conversation with me.
I was singing durning one of my lessons. He stopped me and with a furrowed brow said, “Son, have you even practiced this piece even a little? I can tell you haven’t. You have to put in the work. I may not have told you, but your voice won’t even be fully matured until you reach 35 or 40. You have to put in the hard work now so that you will sound amazing then.” I was 19 at the time.
Wait a minute. Not only had I been caught…again…now he was telling me that my voice is immature? Wow. I had been exposed. Practice had gotten me this far, but I was no where near as good as I thought I was. I wasn’t even close…and wouldn’t be for 20 years.
Fast forward several years. I didn’t finish my music degree. It became obvious that singing in the choir was not where my passion was. However, I did still enjoy singing. With time, it had become fun again. I decided that I wanted to try out to sing the Star Spangled Banner at a professional baseball game. So, I practiced. A lot. I made the cut. So, I practiced even more. It went really quickly, but it went really well. It was nothing to get a big head over.
Why? I finally made the connection. Why do we practice? For three reasons:
Obviously, so we can get better at things. Practice helps us leverage the talent that we have been given and become better.
I believe we also practice for another reason…to stay humble. The more I practice at anything, the more I realize that I need to practice. I practice more and I learn more. There is no ending point. There is always something new to learn, new things to uncover and new frontiers to conquer.
There is also another reason we practice. When we practice long enough and hard enough we are able to speak into others lives and help them develop the talent that they have. That is what I want. I want to be like Mrs. Wilkens, my choir teacher and like Dr. Webster, my voice professor. I want to be a voice for good in others lives. They were amazing at what they did and it gave them the ability to speak into my life when I needed it most, to help me be the best that I could be.
Now, life has come full circle. I have a little one of my own, whose life I get to speak into. Now when he looks at me and says, “Hey daddy, listen to me sing. How am I doing?” I can say with a smile, “I can see your talent. You are getting better.”
That is why we practice.