A few years ago, I had a conversation with a person in my community about another person who often played music for our group. Ultimately, the person I was talking to expressed a desire for the music person to stop because the music wasn’t polished; it didn’t sound “professional.” What was interesting about this was that we weren’t a community of professional musicians nor even a community of professional artists. Rather, we were a community of people from diverse places in life with diverse talents and careers. The person criticizing the music person wasn’t a musician either. So this critique didn’t exactly make sense. The music person loved music and loved us. That love was apparent in every note and lyric. That should have been what mattered.
Yesterday, I went to my niece’s talent show at her elementary school. My brother and his family live in a small, rural community where my sister-in-law jokes that not a single kid has a normal name. The elementary school nicely represented that demographic as Gaias and Serenitys dashed between folding chairs in the lunchroom/auditorium, hair atangle and muddy bare feet slapping the worn wood floor. The kids who were to perform sat along a line of masking tape just below the stage, fidgets and giggles, a few (my niece included) faces drawn with timidity and focus.
Families jostled into their seats on too-close together folding chairs, expectant as the MC’s—two kids, one in a polo shirt, top hat, and track pants; the other in an airy cocktail dress—began the hosting banter of straight man/funny man they wrote for the evening, checking their scripts to make sure they delivered the punchlines right.
Then the usual line up of kids from 6 years old to 13 years old doing usual talent show fare: dancing stiffly, clunkily playing piano, making a violin squeal to be released from its torture. Not polished, not professional — a bunch of Stellas trying to be the stars their parents were convinced they were.
Then the stocky kid with the yoyo got on stage. His dad told me later he refused to have background accompaniment because he was that focused on the skill he was about to demonstrate. With an expression Winston Churchill would have envied, the kid solemnly bobbed the yoyo up and down once, twice, three whole times before taking a clipped bow and exiting the stage to a roar of applause. He was followed by four boys bouncing on pogo sticks until they fell down.
This was love. This was community coming together to celebrate being a community. It didn’t matter whether anyone was actually good, the goal was to have an evening together for fun, for the joy of having homemade cookies and popcorn while watching kids be brave and contribute to the greater good of the community.
Some kids were very very talented. The cocktail dress MC played a piano piece as airy and blue as her dress. Another pre-teen girl wearing pink crocs with socks and a shapeless oatmeal-colored sweatshirt, hair in a messy ponytail, sang a song identified only as “Imagine Dragons song” in a husky jazz voice that would have wooed a San Francisco nightclub. And of course my niece’s self-choreographed hula hoop routine to the Trolls Movie’s “Get Back Up Again” made the entire evening and garnered the most applause (though I could be biased here).
The energy of the room as every person there willed the best for each performer from the crossfit girl and karate trio breaking boards to “Eye of the Tiger” to a female duo that beat rhythms on a plastic bowl while riffing Bjork-like vocals filled us all and made us all better and bigger than a small town talent show. Everyone there was happy to be there because those kids loved their arts. And they loved their families. And that’s what mattered.