Oral History: Challenging yourself
Here's an edited section on Challenging Yourself
Neil: This culture is very isolating. So here was a way for me to take care of myself. Challenge myself. To learn new things. Music just engages your whole brain.
Kim: You know, practicing the songs, during the week listening and singing and just always walking around with a song in my head -- sometimes two or three -- trying to master something… I think, especially as adults, we kind of get into a rut and routines and having the challenge of learning something new all the time that brings such joy... It's not like I'm learning physics or something. It's learning something that I'll have for the rest of my life. I think they say music is the last thing to go in people's memories.
Monique: I grew up putting myself in classes that were harder than I could do. That's just how I've always learned. That's how you push yourself, by singing with people who are better than you and trying to imitate them.
Andy: I like the rigor of singing [harmony] parts. That to me is hard, hard, hard, hard. Go and sing these tenor parts for whatever the song is, whether it's a song I knew and liked, or never heard before. Go in there every Sunday and reading the music and trying to sing the part is so hard. And, for me anyway, it's great exercise so it makes me a much better singer.
Kim: I love those moments when, when somebody comes up with the courage and, you know, goes for it. One of my favorite moments was watching Julie join the band. She's up there playing her guitar and she's been in this group, but it was just like she had such a cool vibe -- I’m going, “Oh my God, you look amazing.”
Emily: I love gospel which is something that I came into within the last six years. It's just fun to sing. Yeah that's slide-y stuff is fun to sing and it is just complicated.
Julie: Often the alto part is challenging and kind of strange musically, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense until we're in the whole group. And that can make it harder to do.
Jean: I really enjoy working with the choir because it uses so many different skills that are, you know, it's hard to find an activity that brings all that stuff together.
I just published a book! After hours of interviews with founding members of Newton Family Singers, I've compiled their story into How to Start a Singing Group: An Oral History of Newton Family Singers.
What kind of information is in there? Well, here's an edited section on Friendship:
Monique: Stephanie is the best friend I've ever had. And only because of NFS.
Stephanie: That makes me cry. It's true. It's true.
Monique: [First time I met her was] at that [original NFS] meeting. ...
Stephanie: Becoming friends through something that's hard, I think is unusual. It doesn't usually happen that way. But in this case it was just too important and obviously I think it was the best thing. The best thing. Yeah.
Julie: How often do I get to see my friends? But here I get to see these people that have become my friends and I get to see them every week and I don't have to organize anything or make any meals.
Jack: Julie and I have had conversations over the years about, who is your friend? Like, how do you define friends? Because it’s hard to make friends when you’re an adult. But with Newton Family Singers, I would say, now we have all these friends because we go to this thing every week.
Julie: When do people become friends? It's certainly not just singing next to people. That helps in terms of just getting to know people over time. Time definitely makes a difference. It takes me a while to feel like I fit in. I think what really helps is seeing people willing to be vulnerable.
Jack: Singing in public is very vulnerable. Even if I don't know someone that well, if I see like, Melissa come out and do this two line solo and you can tell she's nervous and she does a great job, my heart opens to her, you know.
Stephanie: I think it's really powerful. Exactly what you're saying, [in regular life] people aren't always vulnerable and even if someone isn't your favorite person in the world, you see them do something that you know is hard for them, or you see them really succeed... We feel connected. We feel close.
Julie: When people are willing to go up for solos or to sing with somebody and you support them when you see them taking a risk, and they support you when you're taking a risk, that's friendship.
Jack Cheng directs the Clemente Course in Dorchester, excavates in the Middle East, and writes in Waban, MA.