Welcome to Stuff I Learned Yesterday. My name is Darrell Darnell, thanks to my daughter, the fingernails on my right hand are all painted red, and I believe that if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living. In today’s episode of Stuff I Learned Yesterday I share lessons I’ve learned by stepping out and giving it my all.

Today’s Fun Fact: Today is December 13 and on this day in 1925, Richard Wayne Van Dyke, better known as Dick Van Dyke, came into the world. He’s won five Emmys, a Tony, a Grammy, and the hearts of millions of people around the world. He’s known for many roles in Diagnosis Murder, Night at the Museum, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and, of course, Mary Poppins. You may have watched Mary Poppins over the weekend as ABC aired the Disney Classic from 1964. So here are some fun facts about Mary Poppins for you!

  • Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke weren’t the only options for the lead roles. Angela Lansbury and Bette Davis were also considered for the role of Mary. Cary Grant was Walt’s favorite for Bert.
  • To help woo Andrews to the part, Walt Disney had the Sherman Brothers write a special tune for her. The duo penned a lovely song called “The Eyes of Love.” Andrews hated it. The rewrite (“something catchier,” according to Walt) proved to be a struggle for Robert Sherman—until he went home to see his kids. They had received their polio vaccine that day and informed him that it hadn’t hurt at all; the medicine was simply placed on a sugar cube and they ate it like candy. Voila.
  • The cherry trees on tree lane were real-but the blooms weren’t. To create the effect of blossom-laden branches, artists hand mounted thousands of twigs and paper blooms.
  • The “Step in Time” dance sequence was originally slated to be nine minutes long, but the director tried to cut it down to two after fearing it was too long. When Walt Disney found out, he actually decided to add more elements to the sequence, extending it to 14 minutes.
  • Prior to this movie, Dick Van Dyke had never received any type of dance training.
  • Even though Dick Van Dyke was already cast as Bert, he really wanted to play the role of the villainous old bank president Mr. Dawes. He persuaded Walt Disney by screen-testing for the role and agreeing to make a donation to Cal Arts. At the end of the the film, his credit for the role first appears as “Navckid Keyd,” which is an anagram for Dick Van Dyke.

 

What I Learned Yesterday
Someone once told me that my singing voice was like that of Gary Chapman’s. That is, it’s not bad, but not the greatest either.

You may recall that I first started singing by mistake shortly after I graduated high school. I was hanging out with the youth pastor of my church one afternoon, sitting in the back seat of his car singing along quietly to the song on the stereo. I was looking out the window just minding my own business and in my own little world…or so I thought. It turned out that I was singing loud enough to be heard and by the end of the day I was the newest member of his vocal band. You can learn more about that experience by checking out episode 42 of Stuff I Learned Yesterday.

A few years later I found myself auditioning for another vocal group. There were only two of us that were asked to audition, so the odds were pretty good. I got the spot the spot and we soon traveled around Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and a few other places as The Living Water Quartet. I mostly sang lead, but would occasionally sing tenor or baritone on a song. We mostly sang a style of music called southern gospel which I don’t particularly enjoy listening to, but it is a really fun style of music to sing. It’s known for having a foot tapping country style beat and full of tight harmonies.

We didn’t write any of our own songs but instead sang songs that were current and classic hits from that genre of music. Several of the songs we did were by a group called the Gaither Vocal Band. We even went to a couple of Gaither Vocal Band concerts and met some of the vocalists. I was in my early twenties. Everyone else in the group was over 50. It didn’t bother me at all. They were actually a lot of fun to hang out with, and they were full of wisdom. Each of them had been in the music industry most of their lives, so I soaked up their advice and knowledge as much as possible.

One of my breakthrough moments came on a new song we started working on called, “I’m Free.” The song required me to step out of my comfort zone and do some minor vocal runs. To say I was uncomfortable is an understatement. But I knew that was what the song required in order to be done right so during our first rehearsal, I gave it my best shot. When we finished the song our tenor, Bochy, looked over at me with wild eyes and a big grin and told me how great I’d done on it. Those types of areas in the songs were normally hers, but she let me know that that song was mine. She continued to instill confidence in me and I continued to grow as a vocalist.

A few years later I found myself standing on stage all by myself accompanied only by my guitar. At the time I was filling in a temporary need we had at our church for a worship leader. I had no idea that I’d end up becoming the regular worship leader and filling that role for nearly 10 years. I started out timid and afraid. I wasn’t all that good at playing guitar and I was very self conscious. There was no accompaniment or other vocalists to cover my mistakes. Every single error I made would be obvious. I was terrified every week. And every week I did it anyway.

Over time I got better and more comfortable. I gained confidence. I still messed up every single week, but I learned to live with it. I also learned that most of my mistakes were unnoticed by everyone but me. I eventually got comfortable enough to try and really open up my singing voice. I did a few runs here and there and put more emotion with it. People noticed. They started coming up to me after church and making comments on the difference. Everyone seemed to like it.

As the years went on I continued to get comments. Sometimes it might be something like, “you’re better at guitar than you used to be.” Other times it was something like, “I appreciate how much feeling you put into the music.”

Here’s What I Learned
What sticks out about those comments to you? Neither of them are actually saying that I’m good. One said that I’m better than I used to be, and the other said they liked the feeling I put into the music.

Remember that comment I told you about at the opening of the episode? That girl said I had a voice like Gary Chapman. It’s not bad, but not the greatest either. She was absolutely right. I wanted her to say I had a great voice. I wanted her to name off some famous big time singer. Instead she told me the truth. I’ve always appreciated that, even if it did sting a little.

Our daughter is in the 8th grade show choir and our son is in the 7th grade band. They are both trying to find their way and are going about it in totally different ways. Colby practices for 45 minutes each day. He mostly practices each day because it’s required by his teacher. If it wasn’t, he’d probably spend that 45 minutes playing Minecraft. As he practices, he plays each of the pieces they are working on in class, and he works on a few pieces that he’s learning by ear. He usually works on songs from Doctor Who and Star Wars.

Some of the notes in the Star Wars theme are pretty high and the leaps between the notes are quite a bit apart. As a 7th grader on his second year of trumpet, these parts of the song are quite challenging. Sometimes he gets the spots, but most of the time it takes him a few tries. The other day he came to me and asked me if I heard him practice and how I thought he did. I was honest. I told him those spots were still rough but I could tell he was making progress. I told him that if he keeps working at it, he eventually get it all worked out. He was disappointed that I’d criticized his work, but he also recognized that I was being honest and constructive.

Last week Addison had her winter concert. Addi has a really beautiful voice. She wants to be famous one day. She either wants to be famous on YouTube, as an actress, or as a singer. We thought show choir would be a good way for her to get exposed to some of the things in this area. Leading up to the concert, we’d often heard her practicing her music in her room or singing it as she walked around the house. There was one song in particular that she sang over and over again. I thought it was a song that she would have a solo part in.

Throughout the concert various members of the choir would come to the front of the stage and do special parts. Some of the kids did a whole song as a solo, others did 2-4 member ensemble songs, and other kids mixed singing with dancing. Addi never came forward. She spent the entire evening on the back row of the riser. She knew every song and sang every word. She did great.

After the concert was over, we asked her why shed didn’t participate in any of the solo or ensemble parts. She said that she did audition for any of them. She didn’t want to get up in front of people due to stage fright.

Trust me, I know about stage fright. So I talked to her about how I’ve faced my fears in the past and tried to instill confidence in her. I told her that her voice is great. In fact, I know I’m biased, but she is definitely a better singer than most of the other girls who sang in the solos and ensembles.

I hope that one day she’ll get the courage up to audition. I know it will be terrifying. But I also know she has the talent to do it.

But here’s the thing. Talent isn’t the only thing that matters. Don’t get me wrong. Talent does matter. I hate it when people would show up on American Idol with no talent and learn for the first time that they can’t sing. We need people in our lives who will be honest with us. Lying to someone just so they will feel better about themselves does them more harm than good. It’s through honest, constructive criticism that we learn our weaknesses and improvement is made.

But when give something our all, people notice. It affects people. When we put ourselves out there and make ourselves vulnerable, people are drawn to it. People appreciate authenticity, passion, and sincerity.

We don’t achieve our dreams if we never step out of the shadows. I commend every single one of those kids who had the courage to step out into the spotlight and sing. That would be incredibly hard. I wouldn’t have had the courage to do it at their age. Some of them messed up in very noticeable ways. I’m sure it was just their nerves getting the best of them. But I hope they learn from their mistakes. I hope it doesn’t discourage them from never stepping out again.

That’s what I’ve learned and I’m sure every performer will agree. Achieving dreams or reaching goals comes by hard work, not holding back, putting yourself out there, and making mistakes. You’ll feel like a fool, beat yourself up, and cry. But if you allow yourself to learn from it, it will bring growth. Mistakes are often our best teachers and better prepare us for the future. But only when we’re willing to step back into the spotlight and prove it.

I’m Darrell Darnell, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday.

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