Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Woodyettes and Expectations

When your parents are good at something, it probably tends to put unfair pressure on you as their offspring to live up to their potential. This was certainly the case when I was growing up and lived under the same roof as two of the most musically inclined members of the church in Simi Valley. Mom and Dad were at the center of pretty much everything music-related in the church in those days. It naturally followed that their kids would follow suit.

Some of us did better than others. One sister, for instance, took up violin and is an outstanding musician. My brother learned horn (specifically baritone) in high school, then later taught himself to play bass. He also has a terrific bass/baritone voice. My own musical accomplishments are more a study in what happens to lazy kids who refuse to practice. I have a pleasant voice, but my true strengths are on stage. I never really have lived up to Mom and Dad's musical abilities, but then, neither have I really tried.

Still, there was that perception "out there" that since Woody came from such a musical heritage, Woody should be just as useful as a musical resource when the need arises. I'm not sure how many folks I've disappointed along the way, but they all still talk to me so I guess all is forgiven.

I tell this story because I have incredibly shy daughters. They intensely dislike standing up in front of an audience of any kind for any reason. This includes audiences made up exclusively of family who have known and loved them since they were little more than ultra-sound images.

Ever since Jelly was old enough to participate, we, like all parents in the Church, have looked forward to the Primary Program. This is an annual event for young LDS children that borders on institutionalized terrorism both for the kids and the Primary leaders who must cajole them into doing their parts or singing their songs. It's wonderful stuff. [See Mrs. Woody's description of the program for a more balanced report!]

Kids, of course, have varying degrees of enthusiasm for performing in front of other people. This ranges from the 11 year old boys who want desperately to look "cool," to the tiny ones who can barely be seen above the wall of the pulpit but who will wave cheerfully at their parents anyway. The loudest kids almost always tend to be atonal. They are not monotones, because even monotones will get at least one note right every once in awhile. These kids will hit any note other than what the rest of the kids are singing, and their voices always have that edge to them that allows them to carry all the way back to the rear of the Cultural Hall.

Then there are kids like mine. In the beginning, Jelly would stand (if, indeed, we could even get her to go up there) looking for all the world like a hostage. With a toothache. She would stand nervously until the song was over, then rocket down off that stand as fast as her little legs (and prevailing tides) would carry her. This puzzled several members of the ward because I had, by that time, done a solo or two in Church and had been recently called as the Ward Choir Director. Mommy also has a reputation of having a wonderful alto voice. So the idea that these mini-Woodys would be so painfully shy about performing didn't square with their expectations.

Nor was this behavior limited to those times when Primary kids sang in church. Even in the classroom, my timid daughters would barely register on any but the most sensitive seismic equipment. It drove Mommy and Daddy crazy that folks at church never got to see the real Woodyettes. You know, the ones who prance around the house talking and singing at the tops of their lungs, and appear to be in performance mode 24x7.

Over the ensuing years, Mrs. Woody and I have undertaken a sort of surgical training regimen to prepare the girls for these events. We start by jumping the poor soul who serves as Primary Chorister on the first weekend in January and beg for a CD of the music that the girls will be singing in this year's program. (These gals have gotten smarter: now they give us the CD before we have a chance to ask!) We listen to these CD's over and over throughout the year. We even let the girls fall asleep listening to them at night. As soon as their lines are handed out (both of the girls recited scriptures this year) Mrs. Woody begins drilling them as part of their morning devotional before school.

The results have paid off, if a bit slowly for our tastes. Jelly's toothache grimace has gradually been replaced with a sort of bemused "here we go again" expression. Doodle tends to be much more enthusiastic during the singing, but still cringes at the thought of reciting lines.

Until this year, that is.

Every Primary Program has seen Mrs. Woody and yours truly sitting on tenterhooks to see if a) the girls will actually sing the songs, and b) be able to get through their lines. This year I am thrilled to report that not only did they sing, but they were able to recite their lines even if they had trouble getting the microphone in just the right place so we could actually hear them. If Mrs. Woody and I weren't so darned dignified, we might have jumped up out of our seats and given each other High Fives in excitement this year. As it was, we both had ear-to-ear grins on our faces and gave the Woodyettes very surreptitious Thumbs Up instead.

In an unprecedented move, the girls even sang in a small group of senior Primary girls for one number. Clustered around the pulpit. I nearly swooned.

None of this, really, can be credited to Daddy, except by way of general support. Mrs. Woody works with these sweet girls every single day, trying to get them to overcome their native shyness; a product, Mrs. Woody freely admits, of her side of the gene pool. We were even a little concerned the day the girls brought home their speaking assignments. Doodle was already in melt-down mode about having to stand up in front of people and speak her line all by her little lonesome self. In the midst of the quivering lower lip, Mommy gently snuggled her and told her just how hard they were going to work to make sure Doodle could deliver her line and be confident. It worked. She walked right up to the microphone, tried her level best to adjust it to her height, then plowed ahead with her scripture.

Jelly was another story. A couple of weeks ago, one of the leaders asked whether she would be willing to do an extra line or two. This would not have been Jelly's first inclination, putting such assignments on her list somewhere below "cleaning her room," or "having a root canal." But after Mommy talked with her a bit, she allowed as how she might be willing to do it. Fortunately, they had already made other arrangements, but Mommy and Daddy were proud that she would have if necessary. Then, even as the Primary Program drew nigh, Jelly received an assignment to do the scripture in opening exercises later that day. Which she accepted with a resigned sort of expression on her face. But she did it. Two performances in the same day. What a trooper!

The point is that I believe my girls have finally arrived. They have finally gotten to the point where they can perform in a public venue with little trauma to their delicate psyches. This means many things to their stage-veteran father. It means they will have more self-confidence as they approach their teenage years. It means they will be more willing to participate in programs like this.

It means they may finally stop rolling their eyes whenever Daddy acts like a nut at home.

Or not.

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