Music and I have always been trapped in an abusive relationship. The thing is, I never know which of us is the abuser and which is the victim.
I used to say my singing prowess, or lack thereof, was God’s joke. I love to sing, but am not very good at it. In fact, it is fair to say that I am bad at it. The last time I can remember singing in public (before going Christmas caroling in the community last year) was when I was about seven. The choir director at church was putting together a children’s choir to entertain at the annual St. Joseph’s Day Table festivities. The presentation included making hand motions to accompany our rousing rendition of “Do, Re, Mi.” I wasn’t particularly good at the actual singing part, but I could wiggle my fingers on the sides of my head to make “doe, a deer” ears with great gusto.
A few years later, upon entering the fourth grade, I wanted to join the elementary school glee club. They wouldn’t take me. Let that sink in for a moment. I failed the audition for the public elementary school glee club. I mean, it wasn’t like I was trying out for American Idol or anything. All I wanted was to sing with the other, adequately voiced, 9-11-olds in the Jonas E. Salk Elementary School choir. How bad must I have been? And don’t you think that it was kind of cruel to reject such an enthusiastic child? The experience scarred me for life. I am always secretly wanting to sing, but I’m fearful that the sound of my voice will cause permanent trauma, or at least permanent hearing damage, to anyone who can hear me.
I’ve been tempted to join church choirs a few times in the past. St. Augustine is attributed with saying that “he who sings prays twice” and I think that is true. Singing adds another dimension to prayer for me. I don’t know whether it is because more of my body is engaged when I am singing rather than when I am simply speaking. I do know that my mind and heart and soul are usually more engaged. I seem to focus more on the experience of praying when I sing.
I enjoy singing at church. After years of repetition, I was familiar enough with most of the regular hymns I heard in the Catholic church to follow the melody without drawing pained looks from my neighbors. Sometimes, I’ll visit my current church on a weekday. There is a sign on the door that says, “Come in, rest, and pray.” That’s exactly what I do. I pray and, alone where I cannot endanger anyone’s ears, I sing. God never seems to mind.
In keeping with my resolve to try things I always wanted to do, I finally decided to try singing with the choir at my new church. During the choir’s “off season” in the summer, an informal group of folks would meet with the choir director right before the service to learn a song to sing during the liturgy. I enjoyed that. The problem, if there was one, was that everyone was too nice. I may not be able to sing very well, but I can hear and I know I was bad. I was fine as long as the melody was familiar and I could follow along with the tune. When it came to harmonizing, I reverted to that fourth grader who couldn’t make the glee club. I could not follow either the soprano or alto part consistently. I tended to wander all over the staff, hitting whichever notes my voice tripped over. I didn’t sing melody. I didn’t sing harmony. I sung cacophony. Still, the choir members were all way too nice to allow my lack of singing talent get in the way of my joining the choir. They were so warm and welcoming and encouraging, I decided to give it a try.
I loved the people in the choir and I loved the culture of the choir. It did feel very prayerful. I am sure we were “praying twice.” On the other hand, I was still not good. After a few practices, I was slightly better, but still bad. Basically, I advanced from very bad to just bad. Every time I mentioned it, the choir director and other members told me I was getting better and I was doing fine and I was loved and wanted. It made it kind of hard to disentangle myself from the choir. There is a lot of incentive in acceptance.
On the other hand, I realized that I would not be able to attend Sunday school if I continued with the choir. Our rector leads a Sunday school session between the two services every week and I’ve been attending fairly regularly. I get a lot out of that class and I think I contribute something to it, as well. I feel like God is calling me more to participate in the Sunday school class rather than the choir, so I am going to part ways with the choir for now.
In reality, the gifts God gave me are truly more suited to participating in Sunday school discussions. I’ve always loved discussing spiritual ideas. I think I can use the perspectives we explore in the class to help me with my blog posts and with church programs I might present. I read once that the best ministry is that activity where the thing that brings a person joy intersects with the needs of the people of God. I enjoy the singing, but I don’t think it brings me the kind of joy that drives the passion of ministry. As for intersecting with the needs of the people of God…. well, nobody needs to hear me sing!
One of the roles of a church choir is to lead the musical worship of the congregation. Leaders need followers. I can be a follower. Followers also pray twice!
One of the best things about retirement is having the time and energy to explore new activities. What new pursuits did you embrace (or want to embrace) in retirement? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a pleasantly busy day!
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