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An Invitation to More

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

Allow me to introduce myself! My name is Tara McDermott, and I am the co-founder and the Director of Operations for The Hildegard Collective. I am truly so unbelievably excited to be launching the Collective, after years and years of praying, dreaming, and working hard to make this vision a reality. My relationship with music has been intense from the beginning- a grace-filled rollercoaster, equal parts exhilarating and chilly terrifying. I’ve been on quite a journey to be where I am today, and it is truly a grace to be able to look back and see God weaving His thread of love through it all. Let me take you back to the beginning. I’m going to give you the tl;dr version of my story, because I don’t have all day to write, and chances are you don’t have all day to read. But, to make an incredibly long story short, when I was just 8 years old, I began to experience severe anxiety and panic attacks. For the first while, they were rare enough occurrences, and they didn’t affect my daily life too severely, but they were always there, lingering in the back of my mind. Ironically (or not), this was also the same year that I discovered I could sing. It was surprising, coming from a largely un-musical family, but I was hooked from the first time I opened my mouth. Singing was a comfort during a time in my life where I almost always felt some degree of anxiety and uncertainty. I couldn’t understand what was happening in my own brain, let alone the vast world around me, but I could understand something innately good, true and beautiful in music. And I clung to it for dear life. When I was 10, I auditioned for a prestigious local children’s choir. I had never auditioned for anything in my life, and I was terrified. I was fully not expecting to get in, but somehow, I did. I was so overjoyed and threw myself into rehearsals, giving 110% every time I stepped I opened my mouth to sing. One day, in mid-November, we were handed a new piece of music to learn. It was messily photocopied on a piece of green paper so that you couldn't see the composer, or the title. But in sloppy chicken scratch, someone had scribbled "Hansel and Gretel" on the top of the paper. I didn't think anything of it. The piece was pretty enough, it had cute lyrics, and I rehearsed the piece pretty absentmindedly with my peers. On the first weekend in December, after months of preparation, it came time for our concerts. Everything up to this point had gone to plan, and I was so excited for my public debut as a singer. Curtain rises. First song. In the middle of it, there's a huge bang from behind me and a buzz starts up among the crowd. I had no idea what was going on. Then a few minutes later, it happened again. The conductor was struggling to keep everyone's attention but we launched into the second song. And then it happened again. This time, I turned and looked behind me. There was a girl lying on the ground behind the risers. She looked grayish-white, and her eyes were shut. I looked away right as a mom ran to her from back stage. I had no idea what was happening. Fast forward a song or two. When we got back to our black box holding pen, the chatter did not stop. In only a matter of 2 songs, 3 girls had fainted; all off the back riser, all with concussions and all on their way to the hospital. It was a very dramatic start to the concert, but I didn't think much of it beyond. I mean, fainting is called “the choir plague” for a reason, right? It could've been anyone! But then the last part of the concert came. I only had to get through 4 songs. Just 4. It wasn't going to be a problem. But by the end of the second song, another girl had fainted. I was starting to get nervous. But I only had 2 more songs to go. I could totally do this! The director took the microphone to say a few words to the audience. Maybe two minutes into her speech, some girls started yelling her name. She turned around and one girl piped up, "You just lost another, could you hurry it up?" Our director ran to the end of the risers, and, sure enough, there was another girl lying on the floor. The director turned and made a joke to the audience, "Boy, we're dropping like flies tonight", and the girl’s anxious mother ran out of the theater. I watched her silhouette run from the audience, and quickly, promptly, we dove into our next piece. It was that Hansel and Gretel song, I remembered it. Words were coming out of my mouth, but my mind was elsewhere. All of a sudden, the world seemed to be in slow motion. I looked at the 250 other people on stage with me. Their mouths were all moving in slow motion, and a deafeningly loud sound was coming out. It was beautiful, but too loud, too overwhelming. All of a sudden, I was claustrophobic, and trapped on a riser. The lights were burning my face. All of a sudden my vision narrowed into just a blurry tunnel. I looked out into the audience but I couldn't see my parents. My neighbors were in the front row pointing at me. One of them mouthed something to me. She asked if I was ok. I nodded very quickly. I tried to swallow, but I couldn't. All of a sudden, the air was too thick for me to breath. I felt like I was suffocating, dying, having a heart attack. I felt myself swaying back and forth. I was about to topple over. I was about to become the sixth girl to faint. Then, in a seemingly sudden flash, the lights went out. The concert was over. I was shaking like a leaf, but I waited my turn to exit the stage. I shuffled off in my little black ballet slippers. I fell to the floor next to my bag as soon as I got back. I was conscious, I was fine, just thoroughly exhausted through my whole body. I could not stop shaking. I remember my mom coming back to the room and asking if I was ok. When we got back home, she asked if I still wanted to do the concert the following day. Of course I said yes! After all, I had my fair share of panic attacks before. A panic attack was just a one time thing, I thought. Isolated episodes. How very wrong I was. The next day, I couldn't even get through the first song. I had another massive panic attack and ended up leaving the stage. I was mortified and I sat backstage, alone, for the rest of the concert. I realized in that moment, that my experience the day before had been seriously traumatic to my little 10 year old brain, and, like it or not, I was now fighting a war against my own mind. For the next 2 years, I couldn't perform at all. I couldn't rehearse. My panic attacks and anxiety intensified until I could not even walk into a rehearsal room. I cried far more than I smiled. I spent more time in my psychologist's office than I did singing. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I forced myself to go to every rehearsal and every single performance, but I couldn't get through even one. The thought of that first concert never left my head. 900+ people in the theater on that cold December night had watched me have a massive anxiety attack when I was just a little kid! I lived in a state of constant shame and embarrassment. Kids my own age, and some who were older, told me to quit. They said I would never recover. That it wasn't fair that I was making the whole choir look bad. They told me that I should give up on singing. And I was so so close to listening to them. I wanted to quit. I was so miserable and embarrassed and frustrated. But something (or Someone) just would not let me quit. And whatever that was, it certainly didn't come from me. For 2 years, I lived in a state of truly constant anxiety. While it was centered on performing, it eventually spread to other areas of my life. It all got more and more intense, until it culminated in about 6 months where I couldn't leave my house, some days I couldn't leave my room. Performances and fainting continued to be at the center of it all. I would actually pray for God to put me in a coma on performance days. I would have these really really intense panic attacks in cycles from the minute I woke up to the minute I went to bed. Yet, through all of these intense experiences, I just could not walk away. After that first concert, I decided to adopt the Hansel and Gretel prayer as my theme song, my mantra, if you will. It spoke about fourteen angels being sent from heaven for protection and guidance, which was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. I found myself singing that song all the time. It was just a little comfort to me when the world seemed to be falling apart at the seams. Which was pretty much always. I remember so many days when I went to my church and sat in front the Tabernacle and cried for hours and begged Jesus to let me quit. I told Him I didn't understand why I was still singing, because clearly it wasn't for me. One day, I felt Him very clearly tell my heart to just trust Him. And I really tried, but I was so so miserable and unhappy that it was hard to trust. Plus I was 10. I don't think I even fully comprehend what it meant to trust someone. And then, one day, after 2 whole years, it finally clicked. I did my normal sobbing my eyes out before the show, but for some reason, by some profound grace from God, I was able to get through the whole thing. Once the performance anxiety subsided to an at-least-manageable level, the rest fell into place. I could go to school for a whole day with minimal panic attacks. I could go outside my house, in the car, to the grocery store, to the park, all without having to go right back home in 10 minutes. And I stuck with singing! A few years after that, I found myself falling head over heels in love with opera. For my 14th birthday, my parents got me tickets to see my very first opera, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel at Lyric Opera of Chicago. To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement. When that day came, and I sat up in those nosebleed seats at the Civic Opera House, I felt as close as I ever had to Heaven. And, with the conductor’s downbeat, the orchestra burst forth with a melody that I recognized instantly- it was MY song. That Hansel and Gretel song, the one that sustained me through all my times of anxiety. I had never even bothered to question where the song came from, and it was certainly the very last thing that I expected to hear at my very first opera performance! To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a profoundly full-circle God moment as I did in that opera house. (And God bless the wait staff who kept offering me serviettes and asking if I was okay during intermission. I’d imagine it’s probably not every day they find 14 year old girls crying their way through performances of a children’s fairytale.) The rest is history, as they say. I went on to earn my bachelor’s degree in Vocal Performance from The Catholic University of America in 2020, and my master’s degree in Musicology from University College Dublin in 2021. I co-founded The Hildegard Collective with Cecilia, as a place to foster the musical and spiritual lives of Catholic musicians worldwide. I still perform regularly here in Ireland, and now I get to pass on my passion for music as a voice teacher too! However, more important than any degrees I hold or accomplishments on my resume, I never allow myself to forget all of those experiences and the lessons that God taught me through those times in my life. When I say that I believe that music is a tool to heal hearts, I don’t mean that in the same way as believing in fairy tales. I mean it literally, because I have lived it. I am moving, breathing, singing proof that God can and does use music to touch peoples souls and heal peoples hearts. I can think of no greater, worthier task than allowing myself to be a small vessel of music, to convey God’s healing love and mercy to my audiences. Today, my friends, I invite you to do the same. The next time you pick up your instrument, whether that’s at an open mic night at a coffee shop, at church, in a practice room, or wherever that might be, consider that you have no idea who is waiting to be healed by God, through you. There are beating hearts, out there in the world, that you can touch in a way no one else can. Invite the Holy Spirit to use your musicality as a vessel of His healing. Invite Him into every note, every phrase, every movement, and watch for the amazing things that will unfold before your very eyes. I pray you are able to find support, strength, inspiration, and maybe even healing, in The Hildegard Collective. Cecilia and I have often referred to The Collective as our ministry. And it is! But as musicians, we are also each called to our own, totally unique ministry. To use our individual gifts to bring souls to God. Through our shared ministry here, Cecilia and I hope and pray that we are able to help you to grow your own individual ministries, and so change the hearts of those around you. God has great plans for you, my friend, and, here at The Collective, we can’t wait to see those unfold! My fellow musicians, I’m praying for you and I believe in you! God bless! Tara McDermott Co-founder and Director of Operations

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