I recently attended the 25th reunion concert of a Stanford men’s a capella singing group. (Yes, I admit that I am a closet a capella fan, dating back to my first taste of it during Freshman Orientation week in college.)
What I noticed (while bopping in my seat to the rhythm section and laughing out loud at their sight gags…I’m not shy!) among the performers on the stage was that the current undergrads had a certain reckless abandon and joy about their performing that was fresh and entertaining. However, the alumni, some of whom were returning to the stage for the first time in over 20 years, had a different kind of joy to their performing. They sauntered out to their spots on the stage just a little slower, smiled and made eye contact with the audience just a little longer, and belted out their solos with just a little more emotion.
I finally realized what this was – gratitude. Each time I have returned to the stage in recent years, I savor it, take it in, and remind myself of the unbelievable privilege it is to be able to make music in the presence of a live audience…especially in a large concert hall packed with people. There’s nothing like that energy, especially when you’ve known the exhilaration of playing really well on a stage like that. So even though those alumni a capella singers weren’t all hitting their notes (although most of them were!), they all exuded a certain gratitude and humility, and that was the human connection that drew their audience in. We could all feel what it meant to those alumni to be part of that group again for just one night, and we were inspired to give some of that gratitude back during the performance.
When I see my students performing with such joy now, it is fun for me to imagine that I am planting the seeds for that day in the future when they will hopefully have the chance to return to the stage and relive the joy of performing again….with the kind of gratitude that only adulthood and a little distance can bring.