So, I’ll admit it — I have been procrastinating. I typed this title and saved an empty page as “Draft” months ago, after I read the chapter by the same title in Os Guinness’s book Rise to the Call. Maybe I believed that if I thought about it for a while, the feeling that my head would simply explode at the concept might subside.
It did not. But I read the chapter again yesterday, and I didn’t explode, so now I think that I am ready to write.
Guiness’s term, “an audience of One”, should really be a simple concept relating to call and motivation. But nothing is really simple when it relates to a discussion of call and motivation.
When I consider the nature of God’s call in my life, as a 21st-century American steeped in the concepts of planning and productivityand usefulness so common to our society, I immediately think about the ways in which this call influences my goals, my ambitions, my achievements. Maybe I need to go to seminary, definitely I need to cut activities 20 and 27 out of my to-do list because they are no longer relevant; I must add more volunteer and service activities, give more to some organization that aligns with my perception of my call. Maybe I should throw over everything in my life to follow a life in the church–seek ordination, become a pastor, minister to the flock. Over achievers, one and all, ruled by our concept of the puritan work ethic, being busy in response to that voice in our head and our heart.
I never stopped to consider the question: who is the audience for all of this striving? Does my new awareness necessitate more and different activity, or simply a change in venue, a transformation from performing for the audience in my life — my friends, my family, the society in which I live, the profession of classical music– to a complete focus on the audience of One, or God?
And yes, this is a critical issue in the life of one who is evaluating whether or not to continue in the world of secular classical music, where audience is everything. If you have the wrong audience, your message doesn’t get through; if your message doesn’t get through, no one wants to hear you.
We as those attempting to live a Christian life often refer to ourselves as “bucking the crowd,” “marching to a different drummer”, and the colloquialisms go on and on, but, in simply acknowledging this other crowd, are we not still in thrall to it and its approval or disdain? One of the basic concepts in the psychology of self development and individualization is this: as long as you are rebelling against it (and the “it” can be anything — parents, Madison Avenue, colleagues, whomever), the “it” still owns you. If you spend your days working to “improve” yourself so that you can fit in with a certain group, pass a certain hurdle of recognition, then that group owns you and that is your focus. As Harry Truman, my fellow Missourian, once said: “I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he had taken a poll in Egypt.”
So, the Audience of One. Guinness refers to this concept as one of the vital features of the “truth” about calling: “A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others — the Audience of One.”
May I say, that, having spent the last 20 years of my life developing my skills as a performer, this thought turned my world on its head. And, at the same time, it led me to understand many of my failures as a performer and as a person.
I will admit it, I have read more than my share of self-help books. I can tell you in great detail the features of my personality that are still hold-over survival tactics from my childhood in an alcoholic home, I can point out to you the ways in which I behave oddly because I was raped when I was 17, the psychological and spiritual virtues that are now a part of me because of the work that I had to do just to strive towards wholeness. I could catalog for you my co-dependencies, show you just which behavior pattern reveals the best glimpse of the empty, damaged hole in my soul. I am happy to say that today my reading material and my musings display a less narcissistic orientation, but what NEVER came through in any of the hundreds of books that I read was the simple idea that I had the wrong audience.
Oh, these same books would tell me to turn within, to spend time in meditation, to try to hear my own voice through the cacaphony of the crowd I was trying to please or appease, but an audience consisting only of my Self is no better than an outer audience — it is not the Audience of One, despite the fact that it is an audience of one. And these books never told me, as theologian Henri Nouwen has in his book The Inner Voice of Love, that the only relief from these individual pains comes with the realization that my pain is humanity’s pain. We fail to hear our call when we think that we struggle on alone.
So, the truth is, we have it backwards. We play to the many and we struggle alone; we must live in solidarity and focus on the One, the Audience of One.
With that understanding, I return to the question of opera or no opera that started this blog and this particular discussion, and just why the Audience of One is so important to that decision. You see, just after I had made the decision to give up the world of opera, I discovered Guiness’s book. I thought that I had it all clear, that secular music was not in line with my newly heard calling, that I should find a life in music devoted to the sacred, to the reasons that I really sing, that I should not try to exist in a world where many were seeking recognition and applause above all else, where I found it difficult to experience the sacred. And I read this book, and I knew that I was wrong.
A life devoted to sacred communication through music does not mean never singing opera. It does not mean withdrawing from the the larger musical community to seek only those needing the message or working on communicating the message through music. It does mean using the gift of music to communicate the sacred wherever I am, whatever I am singing, whatever I am doing.
I still don’t know exactly where this will take me, but I do know that it is NOT my calling to retreat or to quit, that it is my calling to be a good steward of the gifts that God expresses in my life, including my voice. And that all I can do every day is remind myself:
“I live before the Audience of One. Before others I have nothing to prove, nothing to gain, nothing to lose.”
— Os Guiness, Rising to the Call
Le’ts see where this one takes me…