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How to NOT have it all (Confessions of a recovering choir junkie)

     Little else delivers quite that same sense of belonging as choral singing. You literally hear yourself “fitting in” – one line of harmony within a larger whole.  Choral performance is a team effort, each person relying on others but also contributing individually.  In that sense, it’s like a team sport which I never got to experience because I moved to the US in high school, long after the age of little league and much too late for breaking into that world. 

Preparing to sing Dido's Lament at my last concert in 2007; MIT Chamber Chorus, Kresge Auditorium, MIT
     The feeling of abandon is also extremely appealing for people like me (yup, control freaks, type A, you name it). When it’s right, there are goosebumps, and weightlessness, and effortless energy. The right moment doesn’t come often because someone (probably me) would make a mistake and the magic would be broken. But once you experience the perfection of a true “choir moment”, you seek opportunities to recreate it.  Some of it is actually biology.  First, there is adrenalin of the performance itself. Second, there are endorphins, just like after exercise. Lastly, there is saturation of lungs with oxygen which produces a legitimate high.
     With all these attributes, it’s not surprising that it was difficult for me to give up singing.  I still sing in the car, of course. And now that I have Evan, he “blesses me” with an occasional bed-time song request (though he is equally as likely to ask me to stop singing).  But anything more serious is a distant memory of a time when priorities and commitments were simpler (though, believe me, they didn’t feel that way at the time!). The story is simple: I had to make a choice between seriously practicing Taekwon-Do and seriously working on my singing “career.” 
     There wasn’t really a point at which I “picked” Taekwon-Do.  When time and energy got scarcer and scarcer, it just made sense to “kill two birds with one stone”: enjoy a hobby and spend quality time with family (my husband and I met doing Taekwon-Do, and he motivates me to train and pushes me to get better). With singing, the activity would have been for my enjoyment alone. Surely, my husband would have supported me, and yet as a non-singer he couldn’t have shared in this activity with me.
     Ever since I stopped, I’ve mourned the loss of singing.  The mourning has been more profound than I thought could be possible for something seemingly so trivial.  I would be going about my daily life, totally unphased one moment and in another moment stopping in my tracks and feeling the weight of it bearing on my heart (and getting ideas to write blog posts in the process).  Surprisingly, it is not unlike the feeling of mourning for my father who passed away five years ago.  There is actually a connection, since my interest in music came from listening to my dad play piano.  He only did this until I was about four years old. But I know from family albums that, before I was born, he was always the life of the party: guitar in hand, song at the ready.  I think that he too gave up music like me – at once and forever – though his reasons will always remain a mystery.  But in giving up music, he passed it on to me, as he was the one to take me to my first private singing lesson at the age of four.  I worked with a wonderful teacher at a Soviet “House of Culture.” She agreed to take me under her tutelage, even though I was technically too young.  I got to sing a solo at my very first concert at the age of five, and so began my music addiction. 

My dad, Igor (with guitar on the left); KVN "Club of the Merry and the Witty") performance circa 1970
     Still, I know that my decision to focus on Taekwon-Do was the right one.  The Korean martial art is not only a source of confidence and balance in my life, as it has always been, but more importantly a way for me to build confidence in others by teaching students.  It has allowed me to set a lifetime goal to reach the level of Master. This year, I made an important step toward that goal by starting to teach Taekwon-Do at Wellesley. I am rational enough to know that nothing even close to equivalent to this would have been possible for me with singing.
     By coping with this one decision, I work on a broader idea that no one can (or should) “have it all.” The pursuit of “having it all,” rather than the pursuit of happiness, is a futile endeavor and an annoying charge that has plagued womankind of my generation.  But any student of economics 101 will tell you about trade-offs.  When you focus on one activity, you forego, or at least skimp on, another – that’s called opportunity cost.  So, I don’t strive to “have it all.”   Instead, I want to appreciate that I have a lot and that it’s enough.

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