There are a lot of artist rants on the internets.

You know, “Fuck you, pay me.”

The one with the list of all the training that goes into photography and why you shouldn’t haggle with your photographer.

The Craigslist posting with the response to the restaurant owner who wanted the band to perform for free, you know. For exposure.

It goes on. I occasionally repost these things because… well, it’s a refrain that isn’t heard often enough. So today, a conversation sparked… among many of the artists on my facebook friendslist. How everyone hears it. Everyone’s accustomed to it. I said…something about musicians being the ones most subjected to this because our output is intangible. When the transaction is complete, you don’t own anything. You don’t have anything to look at. You have the memory of an experience. What is that worth? Well, that depends.

In the last days and hours of my mother’s life, and even after she had fallen out of consciousness, I sang to her. For hours. It calmed her breathing. So singing at her funeral was the only thing I felt I could do. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t communicate. But I sang Schubert’s Ave Maria. Not because I’m religious, but because I couldn’t do anything else. The song is held for me in crystalline memory, shimmering and perfect. Not my performance, the song. I don’t remember the performance, actually, outside of the tears streaming down my voice teacher’s face.

Fastforward. I get paid to sing at funerals. Weddings and funerals.

Funerals pay less than weddings… they require less work. Less mind-changing, not months of planning, not the most important day of someone’s life. Absolutely devoid of psycho brides. Just an event that people want to get through with respect. With caring. And, usually… with Schubert’s Ave Maria.

I remember the first time someone asked me to sing it. My heart stopped, but I wanted to offer it. I wanted to do it; to give up the song to that person, to honor the memory.

I remember the first time I was asked to sing it at the church where my mother’s funeral took place. I don’t know how I got through that, either. But I did. I looked right at the coffin, I was back in that moment, I powered through and, afterward, when the bereaved thanked me, I told them what the song meant. I thought they’d want to know; to know that, while they were paying me, I wasn’t doing this for a paycheck.

So then, this conversation today. Since these first moments of singing at funerals, of the conflict, to now…it is years. It doesn’t mean less but, as I have often said about grief; it doesn’t hurt less. We just move further away from it. My friend Matt asks, “What are your plans for the weekend?” and I say “I’ve got a funeral.” and he says “Oh, no!” and I always say “I didn’t know them. It’s at a church. I guarantee this person is over 85.” They often are. People who go to church regularly don’t seem to die out at the rate my friends do.

Over the Summer, I sang at a funeral. And I thought nothing of it. To be honest, without checking, I couldn’t tell you if it was a man or a woman who had passed away; the choir loft is an interesting place, where you often never meet anyone for whom you’re singing. Several days later, a card appeared, with my check in it, and a note. A note from the daughter of the person who had passed away, and it said…that my Ave Maria was the only thing that had provided her solace during that time. That she thinks of it often, and that it brings her peace. That it was the darkest time of her life, and that she wanted me to know that the Ave Maria had made it a bit brighter.

That song. My song. The song that, despite not being religious, I have sung at several of David Best’s temple burns. Because it transcends that, for me. Because my mother’s first name, before she moved to this country and changed it to Marina, was Maria. Because nothing means to me what that means to me, and because you cannot buy that; you can only rent it for a little while and besides, I wouldn’t sell it if I could.

But for that, for that card, for the thought even if the card never comes, that all of these horrible, shit, miserable experiences can combine with years of training to make someone else’s darkest time just a little bit brighter… yes, you can rent it. I am happy to rent it but, when you haggle, or tell me I should give it away for free because it’s not worth anything to you (so why do you want it?), that doesn’t change anything; I can’t sell you my voice, and you can’t buy it, any more than a song can brighten all of that darkness.

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