Eric Metaxas, in his beautiful and amusing autobiography “Fish Out of Water,” spoke of a time when he had the privilege of leading hundreds of American Prayer Breakfast attendees in an acappella version of the first verse of “Amazing Grace.” He writes: “We sang that happy verse and to my great joy. It was nearly as magical as I had remembered it being all those years before, with the acappella harmonies of that sweet melody, being as transcendent as harmonies sometimes can be as though they are harmonising the very souls of the singers themselves, uniting us with each other and frequency where truth and beauty and goodness live, and doing more than we can see or feel as we join in singing them.”
Eric’s description of that moment reminds me of a not-so-glorious experience I had over 40 years ago. The church I attended sent out a call for choir members. My church had not had a choir previous to this opportunity, as they focused more on soloists intermixed with congregational hymns and choruses. Having been a member of a few youth and folk choirs in the past, I volunteered. The choir director placed me in the second soprano section, along with five others. Our choir comprised of maybe 15-20 members, most of which had no previous choir experience and some needed help to stay in tune.
Our lead pastor had a grand vision for a Christmas extravaganza that would outdo the annual Christmas Tree celebration that another church hosted. That celebration drew thousands each year. He even wooed a choir director to come and help. This incredibly kind and talented young man came from a cultural background where acappella harmonies were part of his everyday life, both at home and in church. He did his best, despite the impossible task set before him. He had only two months not only to bring this choir into a glorious, harmonious unity. Not only that, our debut song would be the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.
I had never heard this piece of music up to this point. I suspect most in the choir had not either. The Second Soprano section was new to me, and I had to focus on learning the new harmonies. I suspect I was placed in that group because I had a stronger voice and could carry a tune well.
As time was short, we had only two practices with the orchestra. The orchestra comprised of about eight instruments. Again, the large majority of us had never sung with an orchestra, and it showed in our rehearsals. Any understanding of harmonies went out the window. By now, our fearless leader was sweating bullets.
I will spare you the details of our performance, but let’s just say we had the ‘noise’ part of ‘make a joyful noise to the Lord’ down pat. Fortunately for us, lighting snafus literally kept the choir in the dark. My ears hurt for days, my musical pride hurt for months afterwards. As soon as the service ended, the choir and orchestra members quietly slipped out of the church into the night, followed by the volunteer lighting crew. Some of which were never seen again in that congregation, including the choir director.
I left for the mission field a few months later. That was purely coincidental, honest! I heard through the grapevine that our choir director returned to his roots. Given his talents and his humble, encouraging heart, he is probably leading magnificent choral harmonies to this day.
Why did things go so wrong? Let’s just say that the competitive spirit that drove the pastor of this church to have the best, the largest, and the most spectacular church in town played a huge part in the event’s failure. That same competitive spirit resulted in the church crashing into bankruptcy and financial scandals that made the national news only a couple of years after this service. I will perhaps write about that at a later date.
However, I believe the main issue was unity within diversity. Choirs take time to marinate and blend well. As a new piece of music is introduced, each section of voices works together, becoming one powerful voice where you cannot discern one member’s contribution from the other. Each member is confident in their ability with no sense of competition to raise their voice louder than the others. A wise choir director gently brings correction if such competition arises. Then and only then, they join in with the other voice sections.
No matter how talented each choir member might be, if that choir is not balanced in the harmony of altos, bass, tenors and sopranos, that choir will not be pleasing to its audience’s ears. An all soprano choir, singing only high-pitched harmonies, would jar most listeners. Add the bass, tenor, and alto harmonies, and the splashy trilling sopranos are the cherry on top of the choral sundae.
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.” Psalm 133
In Biblical times, precious anointing oils were made up of costly and exotic blends of fragrances. When poured out as a love offering, they wafted up to heaven in a glorious chorus. In an increasingly splintered world, we as the Body of Christ must humble ourselves, laying down our personal and corporate agendas, and allow ourselves to become a heavenly scent that brings healing, reconciliation, and hope into our world.
ATTENTION: Zoom meetings are currently on a Summer schedule
Every Second Monday – our next meetings will be held on August 2, August 16, and August 30. In September. the day might switch depending on the school schedule for me. Stay tuned.
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©2021 Katherine Walden