It feels very odd for me to be going to choir and feeling completely lost. I’m used to feeling completely comfortable in choir. Now, I know that the first month or so of rehearsals for any set is tough for me, because learning music stretches me.
I’m surrounded by folks who know their music theory cold. It’s an interesting thing. I have an incredible gift for making music out of a musical line, but I need to hear that line, in context to learn it. I’ve talked about this before.
The conductor of my smaller choir wants us to learn music theory. This makes a lot of sense. And I used to know music theory, but not in the context of singing, which I know makes no sense, but is so. I knew, theoretically, about key signatures and modes and rhythms, but there seems to be no connection with that knowledge and hearing those differences.
On Sunday we had a six-hour choir retreat. I normally love these, partly because they’re usually further along in the rehearsal process, so I know the music well and can now work on my favorite part, the actual music making that happens after the notes are learned.
But we started with a music theory test. The conductor played 12 minor and major thirds, in fairly quick succession. We were to identify whether they were minor or major. He played them at the same time (the tonic and the third), not sequentially. I don’t know if I would have done better if he’d played them sequentially or not. But I tanked. I think I got three of the 12 right, and those were only guesses.
It would seem that I haven’t trained myself to hear these things. I can learn a piece, and fairly quickly, if someone else is singing the right notes next to me. I know, instinctually, how to sing things musically, and change that up if requested. The music seems to speak to me that way.
But I end up feeling so inadequate when I can’t do these other things. The thirds seemed out of context, because of course they were. There was no context for the series of thirds played. If it had been a song, I could have learned it and sung it beautifully.
What I’m wondering about now is why I balk so at learning this. I’ve got a story running through my head that says that I can’t hear those differences. Is that true? Probably not. But I also have a story that if I learn to step up my music theory knowledge then I might somehow lose some of my innate musical ability. This, of course, is poppy cock. But it feels real in the moment.
I’m probably scared of where I could go, musically, if I learned the theory so that I could sight read on a much better level. If I didn’t have to lean on anyone else to learn the music, I could take on solos that I’ve not even attempted. I want to do this. And yet, I’m afraid to do this.