I said to someone the other day – it was a choir director, actually – that my favorite place to be is in the middle of the choir, creating a collective offering of music from many different voices and sending it out to be received as the gift it is. My second favorite place to be is in the audience receiving that gift.
I joined the chancel choir at our church in December, 2000. I couldn’t resist the invitation to be a part of the group that was offering beautiful seasonal music back to our creator God whose incarnation we were celebrating. It was a chance to give a birthday gift to the one has given us everything! And I have been a part of that group ever since.
It was a big step for me. I have always loved to sing, but most of my singing was done in the quiet of my room where no one could hear me. I did sing with my sisters as we played our guitars and enjoyed camp songs and folk music. I sang next to my musical dad in church for many years as well. But at some point in time I became aware of my own singing voice and I didn’t think it was very good. I had last sung in a choir in high school. As girls glee ended for our sophomore class, the next step was to audition for the upper level choir which was known as Warrior Voices back in the dark ages of 1975 B.S.C. (That’s “before show choir.” I am pretty sure they hadn’t been invented yet.) The audition required sight-reading a piece of music (I can read music) and singing “My Country “Tis of Thee” alone, a cappella, for the choir director. All that came to my mind when I pictured that was…horror. It couldn’t be done by me. Fear overcame my desire to sing and that was the end of it for me. Being shy and overly self-conscious is not a good combination for stepping out in courage or faith.
Forward the calendar twenty-five years to 2000 and somehow the desire overcame the fear and I joined that chancel choir. And now you can’t keep me out of one. I have become the choir cheerleader, excited at every new person who steps through the door and wants to join. Welcome! Let’s get you some music! Let’s find you a folder and a robe! Are you soprano or alto? Tenor or bass? Come meet someone! Come sit next to me! I’m an alto and we are the friendliest group. Let’s blend our voices and make this offering to the Lord together. I drive some people nuts in that group, but they love me anyway and I love each of them.
Music really is a gift to be given and we give it all the time in our choir. But here is the other thing about the choir: it is a gift of community. You have to work together. You have to listen to each other. You need to follow the one who will bring all the parts together into a glorious whole. You have to set aside your agenda, your desires, your needs. To make it work and work well, the individual voices need to become one voice. And in the midst of our context at church, the best part of community is that we are there to care for each other: to mourn with each other at a loss, to celebrate the joys when they happen and to follow the one who calls us to be there. I think it is the best kind of community and I am so overwhelmed at rediscovering it fourteen years ago. If I could have had the kind of understanding of the community of choir in my youth, I could have filled those missing twenty-five years with precious memories, gifts of another kind.
But I try not to look back and mourn. I look forward…to Sunday. Here comes another chance to give the gift.
When we present our anthems in worship, we are of course facing our director. His name is Michael Dryver and he is an amazingly gifted musician who trusts us with some very difficult pieces. When we get it right in rehearsal he always says, “Just like that.” We know we’ve done it well in worship when his face just lights up at the end. I wish the congregation could see him the way we do. This much I know, God above, who is our only audience, can see his face. And I think in that moment his favorite place to be is in the middle of the choir with us (because he is there!) and also in the audience, receiving the gift. And I’m pretty sure he says, “Just like that.”
Choir: the gift of music and community. Just like that.