Temenos Journal II

January 3, 2012

On Mind Training

Just Go Away Inner Demons!

My mother was a gifted singer.

She was an alto in the esteemed Cleveland Orchestra Chorus during their heyday, when Robert Shaw was the conductor. Those were her glory days. I remember her taking me with her to Severance Hall one day when I was about four years old. First we stopped at the Chorus office – perhaps to pick up some sheet music (I don’t remember). Then, instead of going straight back to the car, my mother led me down a dark, cavernous hallway, signaling to me that I should be very quiet, and glancing over her shoulder as if we were going somewhere that was off-limits. I felt like we were conspirators together.

We stopped at a huge pair of heavy doors, which my mother opened just a crack and peeked through. Then she picked me up so that I could see the magnificence of the orchestra hall. That was my first-ever glimpse of an orchestra rehearsal. We lingered a while in reverent awe, and I became enthralled with the excitement and drama of the rehearsal – the stops and starts, the moments of communal glory, the occasional outbursts of the impassioned conductor.

We drove home in silence, savoring the memory of what we had witnessed together. My mother was in her own world, with a far-away look on her face. That was when my mother was the happiest—when she had experienced truly fine classical music. Shortly after that time, when a third sibling came along, my father made my mother quit the chorus. She never forgave him.

I remember that visit to the orchestra hall as if it were yesterday. In retrospect, I wonder if the vibrations of the full orchestra resounding in the hallway had reverberated through my little girl’s skinny limbs and innocent heart. Perhaps it had awakened a part of me that had not yet been born, because from that moment forward—and even until this day—music stirs my soul in a profound and familiar way.

Saturdays were clean-the-house days. My mother would crank up her classical music on the stereo and mop the kitchen floor in a blissful swoon. We grew up on Beethoven, Bach, and Brahms to the scent of Murphy’s Oil Soap and Lemon Pledge.

It soon became apparent that I had inherited my mother’s musical gift. I was singing solos at the grade school concerts and producing make-shift musical productions with the kids in the neighborhood. My mother seemed proud of me and encouraged my participation in concerts and singing contests.

Then, when I was about ten years old, against my mother’s wishes (“You’ll never get in”), I auditioned for and was accepted into the Singing Angels, a city-wide children’s chorus that performed professionally and toured internationally. I was quite thrilled to be participating in real rehearsals and I learned at an early age about the value of discipline and technical know-how. I learned about harmony, blend, and stage presence, and… I couldn’t wait for my mother to see a performance!

The day finally came when my parents could make it to a show. I was so proud, anticipating my mother’s own pride that her daughter was part of such a wonderful chorus. As I sat in the back seat of our car on the way home, I felt bewildered by my mother’s silence. I finally came out and asked her: “Didn’t you like us, Mommy?” Her assessment was harsh. “That wasn’t singing. It was shouting,” she said. She continued to admonish me about nodes on vocal chords and proper breathing techniques and on and on. I was crushed. But secretly defiant.

I stayed with the Singing Angels until I was 14—the maximum age for an “Angel.” My mother never went to another concert.

Because of the Singing Angels,  I developed a taste for show music. Julie Andrews became my idol and I dreamed of being in big musicals—both on stage and in the movies. I even wrote a letter to Walt Disney, requesting an audition. My mother scoffed at my foolish dreams and my taste in music. She insisted that I study the classics and become an opera singer. Anything less would be throwing away my talent, she said.

When I went to college, I majored in drama, with an emphasis in musical theatre. My mother would tell her friends that I was a music major. She could not bear to utter the words “drama major” in the same breath with her daughter’s name.

I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that this tug-of-war continued far into my adulthood—way beyond the point where I should have graduated from the need for parental approval. Nevertheless, it took me until I was in my late 30s before I could stand on my own two feet and say “I am a singer. This is what I was born to do. And I sing the material that I choose to sing.”

It has been an excruciatingly difficult internal battle, even after making peace with my mother (see The Gift of My Mother’s Heart). The closer I would get to success, the more insistent my inner demons of self-doubt would become. The closer I would get to realizing my dreams, the more clever the demons would become, disguising themselves, throwing the focus, invading my mind.

I decided to write a song that I could sing to chase away these demons and reclaim my mind. The song is called “Just Go Away.” It is a song of banishment. It’s a way to take charge of my mind and take charge of my movie. Sometimes I sing this song all day long. It works!


related: On Barking Dogs and Sovereignty of Mind


  1. […] Related: On Mind Training […]

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