So the performance at Hannon library went really well! My dad and I were, of course, nervous wrecks. None of that nonchalant courage for us! We really had no idea what kind of crowd we were going to get so I was pleased to see that the audience was pretty full. One of the librarians counted fifty people, I think. My dad read a bit from his essay on writing The Undiscovered Island, showed some beautiful photos of the Azores and read an excerpt from the book–the part when Julia wanders into the garden of Maria dos Santos. And then there were questions, and such questions! It felt good to be educating the masses, lol.
Just when I couldn’t stand sitting there anymore (my stomach without fail betrays me every time I have to so much as stand up in front of people and talk, much less sing) it was time to perform some songs. For clarification the songs my dad and I are working on are set to famous (within Portugal) Portuguese poetry. My dad writes the music and plays the guitar. I sing. And Chris Matthews plays a mean cahon (Spanish drum). We chose three of the Pessoa poems my dad set to music because Pessoa’s poetry is a huge part of the novel, one Florbela Espanca poem because most of the songs are set to her poems, and I sang a fado a cappella.
The difficult thing about performing these songs is that they are in a language most Americans are unfamiliar with, therefore conveying the meaning of the song is a real challenge. Because I’m not fluent in Portuguese myself it’s also difficult for me to explain said meaning coherently without feeling like an idiot. So my lovely stepmother wrote out a few sentences for me to say to introduce the songs. I was really nervous about that, but I think it went well. Actually, I’m surprised at how well it went. Not perfect but, good enough to where I am beginning to think I underestimate myself. See, I’m ridiculously shy. I’m an introvert. Part of me just wants to hide in my house with my cat for all eternity writing weird stories and poems, never having to face the world. In a lot of ways I’m not a born performer. I don’t thrive in the limelight, but at the same time I’ve always craved it. I think mostly it’s a desire to be loved and appreciated after being invisible most of my childhood. But that desire can get… complicated. Anyway, somehow I’ve learned over the years how to perform, given the right circumstances. And my god did it feel wonderful to actually have an audience that was listening to me, not chatting over their mochas or coming and going. I could just focus on the song. I could lose myself in the emotions. And when I looked out into the audience I saw people sitting with their eyes closed, just as lost as I was. That felt good. Really good.
We live in a culture where we expect artists to bend over backwards to entertain us. We like our singers to be sexy, theatrical, charismatic, etc. But I like to think a voice is enough. I like to think that the ability to evoke and channel intense emotions is worth more than those other things. Because when I sing, when I really sing, I lose it. All the emotions I usually don’t show come pouring out of me, leaving me shaking and exhausted. I like to think that’s enough.
Anyway, I hope the above doesn’t come off as arrogant. I’m not terribly charismatic, I’m too shy to be theatrical and I’ve never thought of myself as classicly attractive. I’ve had to put up with a lot if idiots informing me I couldn’t possibly be a singer if I was afraid to perform in front of people. So from perspective I need to find something in myself to believe in and I have to believe a voice is enough. Because, in the end, isn’t that what singing is ultimately about? The music, the voice?
After the show it was wonderful to meet so many people with ties to the Azores, either through distant family or friends. Everyone loved the music, even those with no understanding of Portuguese and lots of people bought to book and asked for my dad to sign it. I sat there thinking “I want this.” I want to sing and I want to sit here giving out books, my books someday, talking to people. And it struck me that I worry so much about wanting both these things–music and writing–and agonizing over whether or not I can have both. Maybe I should just stop worrying and start living. Because I can’t make a career happen, but I can do the things I love.