You know the phrase, “Fake it til you make it?” I have also heard it tweaked to, “fake it til you become it.” That’s how I felt at the start of this year. I was asked to teach elementary choir in the Mercy Ships Academy and while I have lots of experience singing in choirs, both children’s and adults, I have never directed. I’m really great at following direction, but giving it? It’s the thing I was probably most concerned and nervous about coming into this new teaching position, and quite honestly it’s one of the things I’m most amazed and proud of as I come to the end of this school year and teaching placement. I may not be able to sight read music, and I may not play any instruments aside from my voice, but it turns out I do know a few things. I know what kids will like to sing. I know that raps are always a good idea. I know that rounds are fun…and hard. I know now that my super power is finding incredible youtube videos of amazing musicians, and that kids will behave if they get to watch said video at the end of the class period. I know what kind of music I like and get excited about, and guess what? It turns out my kids like that kind of music too! I’m not sure if they just like it because I am so excited about it, but I’m effectively sending out an entire elementary population into the world who are HUGE fans of The Piano Guys, The Pentatonix, Vocal Point, and many other incredible musicians!
Fake it til you become it. I’m not sure when, but somewhere along the way I became a director. How’d that happen? Somewhere among the hours of teaching kids to all play handbells simultaneously, singing three part rounds, rapping the Bible in a minute, and learning to sing in Portuguese and Dutch, I actually became a director.
While directing elementary-schoolers was daunting for me, you know what was even scarier?!? Directing adults! In addition to leading the elementary choir, I also started an acapella group onboard called “Key of Sea” for the older demographic. I deeply love barbershop music and while I knew this before, I wasn’t prepared for just how much I would miss it when I left the United States to board this crazy ship. It turns out I’m not the only one who loves ringing chords because, although I intended to start a very small, all women’s acapella group, it evolved over the field service into a “larger than I intended” mixed vocal group! It also turns out that we’re not the only ones who enjoy our music! We have had the chance to sing for small groups, community meetings, church services, and most recently we’ve been specifically asked to sing by the founder of Mercy Ships and for the government officials of Cotonou who have made our stay here in Benin possible.
|Key of Sea pretending we're all medical...|
|Key of Sea with Don Stephens, the founder of Mercy Ships|
|Rehearsing music on the dock during a fire drill|
My favorite audience by far though doesn’t come up to the international lounge where we usually perform. They can’t. They’re in hospital beds down in the wards. I love telling the patients through a translator that we’d like to share a song with them because it always takes them aback a little bit that the “yovos” (the term for white people here) want to sing for them. Often, when we finish singing, they make the sign with their hands that we know means, “Again! Sing it again!” Many times we see patients pull out phones to record the songs we share. One evening we shared a song in the wards and the following week a nurse in our group told me that a patient, who had recorded our song, had been listening to it all week and could now sing along!
My favorite moment of singing for the patients was when we got to perform “It is Well with my Soul.” Even though they don’t speak English, the patients somehow knew the words to this old hymn. I have never experienced a more appreciative audience or a harder time keeping my emotions intact in order to finish a song than I did while singing and watching these men, women, and children with horrendous physical deformities caused by tumors that have been growing inside them for years, heads wrapped in bandages, legs in full body casts, massive dressings over burns, yet singing along the words, “Even so, it is well with my soul.” If they can sing that and mean it, I can too. We all can!
And so it was that this year I became a director. I guess that’s how it happened. I just did it. God asked me to do it,gave me the desire and drive to do it…so I did. I still can’t really read music and I still get quite daunted to direct adults… because I’m just me. But now “me” is a director. I became it.