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Notes from Ambon: Gratefulness

If you have a chance to say ‘thank you’, to whom you will say those two words?

I had a blast during the past week, accompanying a bunch of teenagers who I have considered my own siblings. They may be 6-8 years younger than me (which suggests my actual age), but I had a lot of fun. More importantly, I have witnessed this group of people grow over the past month or two. They left the competition different individuals from who they were when they started rehearsal months ago. 

After all the struggle, it is normal to say thank you to someone, or two, or maybe three. In a choir, as the case that I have experienced, no man can stand on its own. I remember saying to the kids, “Look at those individuals standing on your left, right, front, and back. You can only rely at least to those guys you are looking, and they rely on you as well. That’s choir.” The sopranos rely on the altos, tenors, and basses, and so do altos, tenors, and basses, each rely on everyone else.

Will gratefulness be bounded by a mere lip service? I hope not. No choir can be developed without the help of others. At the very minimum, and I mean, the very minimum, they are developed by the artistic director or conductor. A choir is at the very basic a bunch of interpreters of the director. The audience will understand what the director wants since they translate what the conductor wants through singing. They work for the conductor, and thus the role of conductor is not only essential, but also irreplaceable. Thus, it is most appropriate to say thanks to your conductor. There will be no choir without that guy.

Remember also that God has been so kind to all of us. Sometimes, preparation will encounter a lot of problems, challenges, and even stumbling blocks. Even so, I always emphasize to say thanks to the Lord, for every progress and every setback, for each step forward and each step backward. Why? If I think and look back, you can only be amazed by what God has done to the choir. He has been so kind and good. He can perfect the imperfect, strengthen the weak, encourage the hopeless, turn sadness into joy, and more importantly, provide those talented voices that sing. Thanking Him is a must.

If you ask me individually, I will thank God. I can only say one sentence, “Thank you Lord, for being so kind.” He is so kind, to the extent that He is too kind for us. And yes, He does it, not for our sake, but again, for His sake and glory.

I have a particular message to my girlfriend, though. I realize that I won’t be able to help these guys anyway without the support, personal support in this case, from one of the individuals that I love the most. Her caring, attention, relentless support, encouragement, and even direct assistance to develop the guys are very significant. I cannot repay her with anything, aside from saying my deepest gratitude and thanks.

Not stopping there, thanking the conductor is also natural.

One special note about conductor. I have been in this particular choir for 9 years, and this very month, I am entering my ninth year. In those years, I am grateful and proud at the same time to have worked with the choir’s artistic director. Starting as a singer, he allowed me to shadow him for the past few years. Through concerts and competitions, I learned a lot (yes, I mean a lot) from him. From singing to conducting, I have seen a lot. Particularly in this competition, he allowed me to assist him in many ways, and I cannot be happier that I am allowed to help develop the lads for the competition.

I always remind myself, that I have to shape the choir in the intention of the conductor, that when the conductor returns, he will find the choir in the shape that he recognizes best. I often ask myself, “What will the conductor do?” when I train the kids. From every note to every interpretation, sitting with him for the past 9 years has acquainted me with his style, his most likely directions. I try to the best of my ability to be his mirror to the choir.

To that, I am very grateful to the conductor. To be allowed to help, and having trusted me to assist him and the choir, I cannot ask for more.

Ultimately, the kids. They have sacrificed too many, and it is only fitting that they achieve something. I have called them my little brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters in the same struggle, and even more, partners-in-crime at least for the time of the competition. What they achieve may not matter a lot in retrospect, since they have gained way too much to be told. No amount of money can replace the togetherness, the joy and sadness, the story that they create throughout the journey. Their willingness to learn, to be directed, to listen, to understand, to follow, and to sacrifice (sometimes more than what is asked) mean a lot to the conductor, and me as one of the individuals that train them. How can I not be grateful to such exercise of strength?

Yes, I'm talking about these guys.
Yes, I’m talking about these guys.

I can see with my own eyes for the past month or two, these forty-something individuals have changed, a lot, and gladly for the better. They started the journey from a simple eagerness to go to Ambon and sing. They went through various vocalizing practices, repeated the same four songs for tens, hundreds of times. They tried the choreography for times and times. I always believed after witnessing every competition, that in order to do that, it is impossible for ‘mere humans’ to work like that. Their hard work was a joy to behold, and again, how can I not be proud of them, for getting to that level?

True, being in a choir teaches me a lot of things. More importantly, it shows me that beyond singing, choir is an assembly of individuals, each with its own thought, feeling, and action, working together to create an ensemble of beautiful music. Singing is best done with a joyful heart, and I believe a joyful heart can be created with a grateful heart. Gratefulness is a simple calling, just to say “thank you” to those who matter to you. And in this choir, I say “thank you” to all of them, endlessly, for allowing me to join the struggle, and for walking straight with me, bravely, facing every challenge, sacrificing it all, ultimately for us, and even more importantly, for His own sake.

Again, I say, thank you.

P.S.: Remember to say “thank you” to those who really matter to you. If you are a choir member, remember to say “thank you” to your director/conductor, your assistant director/conductor, and also your fellow choristers. They make the choir possible, they also enable you in the choir.

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