Thursday, December 08, 2011

Lo, for a thousand tongues to sing...

I finally managed to scratch enough time out of my schedule to join the choir at the Methodist church I've been attending. I was excited to join because they were singing a cantata for Christmas. Even if I couldn't be at every rehearsal, or every Sunday, at least I could sing the cantata. It's not Christmas without a cantata.

Except, this choir is unlike any one I've ever been in before. I like the choir members. Don't get me wrong. They are a fun group of people, and for once the men almost outnumber the women. But they are a very...democratic choir. Meaning, at any given moment, any one of them might be talking to their neighbors. Conferring about what page we're on. Where we are starting and who exactly is singing second soprano and did you remember that we're not turning pages until the solo is done? The choir director is the sweetest, meekest woman I've ever seen stand in front a choir, and has absolutely no inclination to interrupt anyone. She also directs using a kind of stabbing motion...anyone who's ever been in a music group knows how helpful downbeats can be, but they are cast aside here. In addition, the children's choir director (who's less talented in the directing department, but a more forceful personality than her adult choir counterpart) is apt to leap up and offer her two cents. Her cutoffs to held notes can take two or three beats. Enunciation, ending words with their proper consonants, matching vowels--oh, trying to blend a choir full of Southerners, a few Eastern Shore-ers and me, a Yankee surely must make angels wince--all these techniques are lost on these folks.

I truly despaired after the first rehearsal. The choir, enthusiastic as they are, seemed more interested in getting through the music at top volume while loudly complaining that the CD moved too quickly for them. Oh--did I mention we're singing to canned music? Yup. I get that it's a small church with few resources for musicians. But I would rather sing with a plain piano or organ than a CD. I honestly questioned whether this was a group I wanted to get involved with. Even the cantata seemed a little boring. Too much reliance on key changes for dramatic effect. I'm embarassed to admit that I thought I was "too good" for this choir. I've had the advantage of excellence musical training in my life, which, like the proverbial bicycle, comes back without a second's thought.

Yet, after that first rehearsal, as I was standing there metaphorically pulling my hair out at the fact that we had accomplished about an hour's worth of singing during a two-hour rehearsal, something happened. People came up to me, introduced themselves, and said they were glad to have me. When i went to the second rehearsal, people came up and again introduced themselves, and again said they were glad to have me. They encouraged me to pull out that high "E" at the end of the cantata "--if I could!" and seemed relieved and appreciative when I did. I practised good choir skills, sitting straight on the edge of my chair, working my breathing, and counting--counting--rest phrases, something I hadn't had to do at my old choir. I remembered John Wesley's covenant prayer...

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

...and remembered sometimes we have to be put aside. Not our will, but God's. I thought about how instead of bitching about the choir, I could be a good example, showing up on time and practising good choir behavior. I like the people in the choir. They are truly the heart of the church, more enthusiastic and energetic than any other congregation I've been a part of. I want to sing! But also want to help the choir channel their enthusiasm into focused rehearsals. It would make everything run so much smoother. That's a tall order, I've only been a handful of times, but the more I go, the more I enjoy it.

If anyone is going to be around, we'll be singing Saturday and Sunday evening...