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A Community Needs Every Voice To Contribute

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Years ago, we were in St. Peter for a weekend visiting a college friend. Through this friend, we met other students, one of whom told us something we remember clearly to this day.

It was Sunday, and he took us to the chapel on the Gustavus Adolphus campus for their services. Standing next to him as people reached for their hymnals, we felt a sense of dread. Byron was a tenor in the Gustavus choir with a beautiful voice. While we had been in high school and church choirs, we felt entirely inadequate standing next to him.

When the hymn was over, he turned to us and asked, “Why aren’t you singing?” We replied honestly. “You’re so good I feel ashamed singing next to you.”

His reply has stuck with me all these years: “If the only birds in the forest that sang were the ones that sang the best, it would be a quiet place.”

We were reminded of his words recently by another encounter with music, this one long delayed.

Again, years ago, when we were returning to the Benson area after graduating from the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Minnesota and having worked for the Minnesota House of Representatives, we bought a guitar.

We assumed we would have a lot of spare time on our hands, and this 1970s Ventura V-14 guitar would become a good friend. Unfortunately, life got far more hectic than we anticipated, and that guitar was the one with the quiet life. Still, it followed us from apartment to apartment, new home to new home, throughout the decades.

It remains in amazing shape despite its many journeys, the children it survived, and the neglect it endured. It did one good deed in motivating one of our sons to pick it up and eventually buy his own.

One evening about six weeks ago, we were sitting in our den feeling too tired to read anything that took focus, out of books that we could slip into easily for entertainment, and, to no surprise, unable to find anything worth watching on TV. We walked into the adjacent bedroom and introduced ourselves to the guitar in the closet. From those earlier years, we knew basic chords but little else. After plunking away for a while, our fatigue melted away.

In those first years of trying to learn the guitar, we bought guidebooks, but they were dead ends. Today, however, there is the internet. In a short time, we found “Justin Guitar.”

Justin Sandercore is an Australian living in London who is one of the most popular internet guitar instructors. His easy-going style, understanding of the roadblocks and frustrations, and his message that struggling to learn is part of the process – and that’s okay – made him easy to stick with in the weeks since.

While an exceptional guitarist, Justin says he has a limitation many would-be guitarists can sympathize with – his singing voice. That hasn’t stopped him. “I don’t feel like much of a singer myself, but I really enjoy singing,” he says during his “Learning to Sing” episode. “Any of you who have been around following my channel for some time would know that I am responsible for some pretty atrocious vocal performances.” But he learned from his mistakes, and he didn’t let his fear of criticism stop him. He had taken classes with professional voice teachers but found they were trying to train him as if he were seeking a career as a high-level singing performer. That’s not what he was after.

“I wanted to be able to sing well enough to sing a song I’ve written and sing it in tune,” he said. Justin wanted to sing well enough to play and sing with friends, as well as others, without being too bad.

“Some of the vocals I had done were pretty appalling and people really piled on to me,” he says. “When you get loads of negative feedback from lots of people it ruins your confidence and that makes you less able to sing.”

To help students who desire to sing and play guitar, Justin says it is essential to use your voice in a way that feels good for you, to make it sound the best it can without having to follow all the rules for a high-level performance singer with the proper breathing and stance techniques.

“You just want to start with a song you can sing in tune, to be able to sing a song you enjoy singing, and then to actually develop enough confidence to play in front of someone else,” Justin tells his students. It may mean you learn to sing in a limited range with a “talk” singing voice.

Just as with singing, we don’t have to be the best voice in our community, yet many people are afraid of what they will look like, or that they aren’t educated enough, or smart enough, or eloquent enough, to be a leader. Yet, the talent is there -  they just have to bring their unique voice to the conversation.

To truly represent our communities and meet their needs, our appointed boards, commissions, and elected officials must represent a multi-part harmony created by diverse voices.

Nurturing newcomers to our communities is essential to our growth. They will let others know if this is a place in which to raise a family or one that is indifferent or rejecting the change brought to it by new voices.

Leadership means exposing yourself. It puts you on stage and there are always people in the audience who will be critics.

“Leadership is worth the risk because the goals…” make the lives of the people in your community better and gives meaning to life,” Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky write in their book “Leadership on the Line.”

You can’t complain about your community being out of tune with its people if you’ve never joined the choir.

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