Author: Campbell, Bruce

Six Minutes of Glory

I attended an open mic event a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a bluegrass event; it didn’t have any particular musical theme, and the acts were pretty diverse. In three hours, there were some real high points, but there were also some fairly cringe-inducing moments. The format of the event (two songs per act) guaranteed that you never felt like cringing too long, but it also meant the acts that were real charming were too brief.

Now, you’d think that in a 3 hour span, where at least two hours delivered less-than-stellar performances would be hard to sit through. In fact, it wasn’t. And I wasn’t alone in this thinking. When a guy goes up on stage with his cheap, ill-tuned guitar, and in full view of everyone, with the spotlights glaring down on him, and powers his way through a song that he loves (and in most cases that evening, wrote), your heart responds.

This is music at its most primal. Some people are gifted with fleet fingers and perfect pitch and splendid voices – these are the people we expect to see on stage, and the ones we pay money to see, and wait in line to hear. But these people do NOT represent the majority of musical artists – not by a long shot.

I think everybody is an artist, and has something to say through the art that they belief allows them to express themselves the best. But for most people, sometime during childhood, or soon afterwards, they abdicate that expression and allow more gifted artists to speak for them. How many times have you heard a great performance, and felt the artist really expressed what you feel, or think, or felt? It touches you, and you’re grateful. Does this mean you’re absolutely incapable of expressing yourself on your own? Of course not!

Children express themselves artistically without even thinking about it. They draw, they sing, they dance, they bang on drums. If you have kids, you know how fascinating it is to see them do this – they reveal so much of their minds, so unabashedly, and you can’t help but marvel at it.

Inevitably, at some point, we encourage the kids to develop their talents, and all too soon, most of us begin to glimpse the limits of it, and begin to turn away from those forms of self-expression. As their eyes and ears are opened to examples of more gifted singers or dancers or players, you start to think “Gee, that person sings REALLY good. I sound like a rusty screen door compared to them!”, and you choose not to expose your forms of expression so much.

Some don’t turn away. They choose to continue to express themselves artistically, and develop their skills for doing so. The results will vary by the amount of dedication and the individual gifts, of course. The limelight may not beckon at all, but they find great pleasure and release in their drawings, poetry, music or singing. And once in a while, they might want to let those works of art see the light of day.

So, lyric sheet in one hand, cheap ill-tuned guitar in the other, they go to the open mic and sign up for their two songs of glory. It isn’t glorious though – at least not how they envisioned. The playing that seemed so sure in their bedroom is clunky and tentative in front of strangers, and their dulcet tones come out in a croak. But here’s the beautiful thing: after the two songs (which seemed like two hours to the performer, I’m sure!), a wonderful thing happens: the audience claps! And it’s not sarcastic clapping – they are really applauding the artist’s effort, courage and yes, his artistic vision. The song may never hit the charts, but it was number one with a bullet for those few seconds of sweet applause.
Posted:  2/16/2011

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