Two Yoginis

A journey of yoga, friendship, and transformation

Take A Look At Me Now

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Two weeks ago, I made a brief hometown visit to attend opening night of the (second annual) Montclair Film Festival with my dad. A diverse, trendy suburban New Jersey community (where many NYC expats go to nest), Montclair has become a destination in its own right – complete with the state’s second largest university, an art museum, theaters, eclectic shops and restaurants, local celebrities, a minor league baseball team, and a music venue that attracts mainstream acts on par with Manhattan’s East Village.

With my packed teacher training and work schedule, it wasn’t until the day of the event that I discovered the film we would be seeing: Twenty Feet From Stardom, a documentary about the trials and tribulations of backup singers, many of whom had performed with some of the world’s most famous acts (including Jersey natives like Springsteen and Bon Jovi). As a (sometimes) singer, with singing regrettably and perpetually on the back burner, I figured the film had a message for me.

I can’t remember when or how I figured out I could sing, but I can remember some of my earliest performances – winning the lead role in a camp production of Annie, getting a coveted spot in Hillside School’s Traveling Troupe, singing “Castle on a Cloud” in a Les Miserables review at our local theater, recording commercial demos with a composer who lived in our neighborhood (one of which eventually ran on television). These were (and still are) some of my proudest accomplishments.

When I got to Cornell, a friend encouraged me to audition for an all female a cappella group called “Nothing But Treble” (aka NBT). At the time, I knew very little about a cappella, but I wanted to sing. I hiked up and slid down a snow-covered Libe Slope (Cornell’s infamously steep hill between West Campus and the Arts Quad) three times in one night for each subsequent call back. I had returned to my dorm room and was recapping the experience for my friends (and was deciding what to order for a late night snack), when I heard a combination of footsteps trudging down the hallway and voices echoing their way closer and closer to my door.

(singing)
BA BADA BA BADA BA BADA BA BADA
Imagine me and you, I do
I think about you day and night
It’s only right
To think about the girl you love
And hold her tight
So happy togetherrrrrrrrrrrrrr

One by one, thirteen (or so) smiling, laughing, singing, bundled, snow covered “niblets” filed in, serenading me with an a cappella version of “So Happy Together,” NBT’s ritual of welcoming newbies to the group. To this day, it was pretty much the best surprise ever.

Getting into – and being a member of – NBT made my college experience that much more special and memorable. Not only did I get to sing my heart out for four years, but I had the opportunity to be surrounded by some of the most talented, beautiful, and intelligent women I have ever met. With our voices and our friendships, we created a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

One of my favorite performances: Nothing But Treble – Against All Odds (Live), Spring Concert 2003

Since then, I have taken singing opportunities that have fallen into my lap (e.g. recording a tune here or there, singing back-up vocals for a friend, or performing at friend and family weddings and events). However, in my “adult” life (up until now), singing has not taken center stage.

Watching Twenty Feet From Stardom reminded me of how exquisite it sounds when different voices are brought together in harmony. One of the women interviewed in the film spoke of singing as a truly intimate expression of music. She (more eloquently than I can relay in words) expressed that it is one thing to stand behind and play an instrument; it is another to put yourself out there with just your voice. Singing is about sharing the voice as an instrument, an instrument that reflects truth and authenticity as deep as its “player.”

She also expressed that when you are given a talent or other such gift, it is meant to be shared. It doesn’t have to be about ego, becoming a star, or being the center of attention; it can simply be about loving what you do and having a desire to share that love with others. Her words resonated deeply within me, a bittersweet awareness of my own talent, too often left dormant.

It’s easy to see the word “talent” and think it’s referring to someone else (especially when your talent is not associated with your career or livelihood). The truth is, we each have unique talents, gifts, and abilities (often, many of them). For one person it might be to sing, for another to paint, play an instrument or a sport, dance, write, speak, organize, clean, interpret, teach, learn, make Excel spreadsheets or Power Point presentations, write code, design, blog, engineer, nurture, garden, heal, light, conduct experiments, cook, create, pin{terest}, tweet, decorate, or [insert verb here]. When we are able to identify our special talent or that which lights us up from the inside, it’s important that it be nurtured, that it be practiced, that it be given an outlet, and that it be shared. And if the experience of teacher training has taught me one thing, it’s that if you want to get good at something, learn as much about it as you possibly can.

Opening night closed with a stunning live performance by Darlene Love, one of the film’s main subjects. As I teared up watching her sing “Lean On Me,” on this special night in my hometown, I was reminded of where I come from – a place where diversity, artistic expression, and uniqueness are celebrated, and where individuals are encouraged to be authentically themselves and to pursue their dreams. A message, indeed.

I may never aspire to stardom (or even 20 feet from it). However, I may treat myself to (my very first) singing lessons in the fall.

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Author: Ali

I relocated from NY to HI. These are my stories.

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