Honoring your gift

Do you know about Paul Potts?

English television has a show called “Britain’s Got Talent” that, I gather, is produced once a year. Something like the old Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, it offers people a chance at national recognition. Various acts audition, compete in semi-finals, are voted into the finals, and then are chosen on the basis of call-ins from the audience. The producers of the show claimed to have received more than 2 million votes.

Unlike the days of Ted Mack, when a show missed was missed forever, this is the Internet age (or the beginnings of it, anyway) and millions of people who don’t watch British television — or, in my case, any television — got to see the performance of Paul Potts because people taped it and put it on to YouTube, and then uncounted others passed the link on to their friends and said, “you really should hear this.”

Mr. Potts is 36 years old, overweight, speaks with the wrong accent, needs dental work, admits that he lacks self-confidence, and appeared the first time looking badly dressed. So when one of the judges asked him what he was there to do, and he said, “I am going to sing opera,” no doubt the judges and the audience were prepared for the worst, and were hoping that he would at least deliver an adequate performance. Then he cued the recorded music to some opera, opened his mouth, and began to sing. The first few phrases were surprising, because his singing voice is not at all like his ordinary speech. Then the part that he was singing swelled in volume and the audience gasped and began to break into wild applause.

Of course the lyrics are in Italian, which meant that neither I nor the vast majority of his audience understood a word he was singing. I had always thought this to be one of the great puzzling facts about people liking Opera. Now it occurs to me that perhaps in opera the emotion is conveyed directly to the right brain, the left brain being unable to concentrate upon words and their meaning. But that’s just my own theory of the moment. There is something about this man’s voice. It carries emotion like nothing I have ever heard.

And here is where this man’s story becomes a parable for all of us.

He did win the competition, but that isn’t the point of the parable.

He did probably get his big chance and perhaps this will be the beginning of a singing career for him, but that isn’t the point of the parable either.

This man estimates that he spent 20,000 English pounds — about $40,000 — in lessons. He felt, as he very simply and touchingly said at his audition, that singing opera is what he was here to do. But the pattern of his life seemed to contradict that knowing.

When he decided to enter Britain’s Got Talent, he had just about given up his dream. Although he had won an earlier competition, and had been selected from his Italian opera class to sing in a master class for Pavarotti, and although he had performed in four semi-professional operas in the UK — including a performance with the philharmonic orchestra in a concert in front of 15, 000 people — Success with a capital S had eluded him. An operation and an accident had left him in debt and kept him from performing.

The financial struggles aren’t the point of the parable. The struggle for recognition isn’t the point of the parable. Even his persistence in the face of what would seem to be insuperable obstacles isn’t the point of the parable.

The point is simply this. He was working as a car phone salesman, and a realistic assessment of his life would have been that this was as much as he could expect, having deluded himself about his purpose in being on earth. But if you listen to that voice, and you feel the effects of his singing, you know that he was right. That is his purpose here.

A friend of mine says, “This guy is so appealing because he is an archetypal myth come to real life—the homely, unassuming character who performs heroic deeds (e.g. Percival). The unexpected beauty of it is what makes people cry, especially watching the amazement of those who were present.”

No doubt that is some of it, but you know, I kept listening to that three minute clip (once I got the thing downloaded via dial-up!) and it kept affecting me the same way. It isn’t just the drama, or the fact that he is appealing. There’s something that he’s getting across, soul to soul, using his voice.

Another friend of mine says, “I am one of the doubtless thousands who watched, listened and was transported over and over again in the repeat viewings of the Potts performance clips. The man truly is a healing Angel.” Yes, he is. Thousands are listening to the same clips time and again, in tears and not knowing why. I experienced it myself. There is something amazing about this man and his voice. It touches people. It’s wonderful. I’ll buy his album.

But he almost turned his back on it. His hardest struggle seems to have been believing it himself. For the original of the parable, go to the Gospels, and read what Jesus said about using the talents you have been given. For the application of the parable, look in the mirror.

* * *

To hear him sing, google “Paul Potts” or go to these links. (If you have dial-up, God help you, but it’s worth it, just go do something else while it downloads.)



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