Arts, Column

In Defense Of Mediocrity

I can’t sing.

I still choose to, but most people with a normal and healthy hearing ability would probably suggest I don’t.

In the company of close friends, I might do that sneaky thing where you start off strong, feeling like a regular Whitney Houston, while belting out your best rendition of a lame love ballad’s cheesy refrain. When deafening instrumentals subside to reveal your real voice, though, a genuine attempt at singing turns to exaggerated, tone-deaf shrieks (thus screaming, “I’m quirky and fun and was totally trying to sound really bad the whole time!”).

But apart from that and some strategically muffled shower-singing, I’ve never been too comfortable with the idea of showcasing my nonexistent musical prowess publicly. I’ve had no formal training, and the performance aspect just seems so darn intimidating. “Plus, you’d totally suck at it,” says that old friend, Fear.

Anyway, this is where my mind wandered while sitting in a sardine-packed Trinity Chapel last weekend for the University Chorale’s Christmas concert. Well, there and to the big cookie I planned on purchasing from Stuart as soon as the last song wrapped up. Like some kind of Christmas miracle, a single seat opened and I was free to soak in all the seasonal merriment from the comfort of a foldable chair. My friends onstage sounded great (those little cherubs!) and the accompanying orchestra’s passionate playing was mesmerizing to watch. Most of my friends are long-time choir members or they’ve had an instrument in hand since birth. I am not and have not, so I gladly leave music-making to the semi-professionals.

I was sandwiched in between a tall, balding man who clearly didn’t want to be there and an older woman who’d much rather be standing with the singers, front and center in a long, itchy frock of her own. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call her Marge. Nodding enthusiastically after each song was announced as if she knew every tune backwards, forwards, and inside out, Marge seemed to be reliving some previous, precious choir experience of her own. Marge’s emphatic “oohs” and “ahhs” during instrumentals, as well as her off-key crooning, were annoying background vocals that my fellow audience members tried desperately to tune out. Meanwhile, I was loving it.

Buckle up, because this is where things take a sharp turn for the abstract. I considered the general concept of musical talent, how artistic interest isn’t tied exclusively to skill, and why it’s often refreshing (liberating even) to see, hear, or experience someone’s bad art. What I’m getting at here is that sometimes, a person can (and should) show passion for a hobby even if they’re not particularly good at it themselves. Unabashedly—and luckily for us—they sometimes allow us to watch.

I thought a bit about my brother. For high school seniors like him, the end of December marks a semester-long battle with round one of college applications in the books. Already, colleges have seen Common Apps teeming with weird brags about how many student councils that kid Chris was on, or how good Grace was at every sport she tried. Spending time catering to their natural talent and excelling in things they were told will “look good” to colleges, students were left with no time to try things they could’ve enjoyed more, but might not have been the absolute best at.

I can’t tell you the number of college kids I’ve talked to who say that after joining this singing group or that intramural team just for fun (despite often being pretty bad at said activity), they’re enjoying themselves more than they ever have before. They finally feel like they belong somewhere, thanks to that gutsy leap of faith just outside of a comfort zone. And I (like most BC students, I bet) can relate. I think this is all kind of sad.

If you’re still with me, your reward is me getting straight to the point. Marge’s discordant confidence reveals the beauty of artistic expression in all its many forms and levels of expertise. Music isn’t reserved for the Mozarts or Mileys of the day. Picasso never owned a patent for the sole right to paint. Art gives anyone, regardless of their talent, the freedom to dabble in whatever they wish, however they want.

I guess all I’m really trying to say is this: for all you Marges about to rock, I salute you.

Featured Image Courtesy By The Associated Press

December 10, 2015