I’ll never forget the first time I heard a recording of my singing voice. I was stunned. How could something that sounded so pure, so golden, so lovely in my own head sound like nothing more than a dull roar when put on tape?
This happened when I was about 14 years old, a high school freshman, with a newly-changed voice and a good role in a stage musical at our church. The part came with a solo, and I was excited to sing it. One of the professional musicians recorded a dress rehearsal, and invited me to listen to it. I hated it. His review: “Every note was right on pitch.” It was devastating. What good is correct pitch if nobody wants to hear it?
For years after that – clear into middle age, actually – I could never enjoy hearing a good male soloist. I was jealous, like the Salieri character in the movie Amadeus. Why couldn’t God have given me that gift? I would use it for Him!
Music is an essential ingredient in my life, and I (lacking the self-discipline to learn an instrument) continued to sing in choirs and small groups, my ability to sing on pitch making me a valuable choir member. But I was never content. I was never asked to sing a solo. Nor did I want one, knowing how it would sound.
But God – in 1999 – began a significant (to me, at least) change in my life. That’s another story, too long to tell here. One of the wonderful byproducts of God’s work in me was an acceptance of my musical gift. I’d never realized the value of what I had – I’d always wanted more, and scorned what God had given me. But what I have (good pitch, and a baritone range) is a terrific gift, one that I did not earn or deserve, and I finally learned to be thankful for it.
Now I am so thankful for my role – people like to have me sing with them! And now I can really enjoy hearing soloists. The jealousy is gone. I am just another baritone, glad to be in the choir, singing (finally) for God, and not for myself.
This week, I have learned something. Well, God has taught me something, and here it is: I’m a “baritone” in my work life, too.
I’ve been working full-time for nearly 40 years now. About half of my career has been in management, and the other half as a non-management employee. I’m a pretty good employee, but I’ve always been ambitious, wanting to be promoted up the ladder, seeking the ego thrill of being in charge, making the big bucks – you know, the American Dream. Usually I try to suppress my ambition – since I don’t identify it as a particularly Christ-like character trait. But “sin crouches at the door,” waiting for its opportunity (see Genesis 4:7).
This month, the opportunity knocked. I walked in, and sin pounced. I applied for a management job, but was rejected. I found that being a good employee is like having good pitch – you can be valuable in the group, but don’t try to stand out alone out on that stage unless you have that solo quality. My reaction to the news was the same as when I was 14 – jealousy. Why couldn’t I have that management job? Other people get to do it. God, why did you not make it so I could get that job?
But God sent a Psalm, and my wife, and some good friends, and this morning I realized the truth – I am “just another baritone” at work, too. I have good work skills – something I neither earned nor deserved, something that is easy to take for granted. But those skills are a blessing! People like having me work with them. They even pay me!
Thanks be to God for being patient with a slow learner – and for making me just another baritone.
–Dave Votaw, Dec. 20, 2013