Sitting in the middle of the church gym, my heart swelled with emotion and tears wet my cheeks. It had been too, too long, but the effect was the same. Listening to one of Morten Lauridsen’s compositions does something to me. John Rutter, Leonard Bernstein, likewise. I want to soak those sounds into my soul. In high school, as I prepared for auditions for state choirs I never made, I fell hard for the music selections. Those weaving, itching chords, make me bask in their intensity, then sigh in jubilation and wonder as they resolve. Classical music, and particularly choral music, reaches me. Those transcendent sound waves ripple my listening ears, evoking layers of listening pleasure that other music just doesn’t touch for me. It’s a spiritual experience, both listening and singing.
It wasn’t always so pleasurable. When I started a new high school, my love-love relationship with music, became more dynamic. My new choir director rubbed me the wrong way. She lead grueling, seemingly endless practices- standing until my legs hurt, and holding phrases until my lungs cried uncle. That director was gifted, but brutal. She threw music stands, insulted students, yelled in our faces, and threatened us that the authorities would find her in a closet dead-drunk from Drano martinis from the depression we were sending her into, by failing to meet the expectations she had for us. Those moments made be question why I was there. But when the music came together, I knew I could put up with it a little longer–just to be one of the voices making that glorious sound. Despite her histrionics, I learned to sing well, and listen for good music. She worked and worked our choir until we produced sounds we didn’t know ourselves capable of. Though sometimes she was mean, terrible, terrifying and diabolical, but when she heard good music, we knew it- it transformed her. I don’t agree with how she got there, I can understand her motivation- she knew good music was in us–and battled to get it out of us. I hung around to for the music selections, and see what kind of music she could scare out of me.
Somewhere in those years, when I realized I would never be anything musically magnanimous, but wanted to keep it in my life post-high school choir graduation. I had a prayer, that God would let me sing, not because to I had an incredible gift meant that is selfish not to share; but because I wanted to. I just wanted my singing to be good enough that I would have opportunities to sing, and share the spirit in the music–that would make me more than happy.
In college, I coiled into an anxious panic of inability and bombed the one choir audition I talked myself into. There were always ward choirs that needed music-readers, I had that. But feared I may never sing the compositions I loved so much again. But then I heard that song: O Magnum Mysterium. The stake! choir! at! church! was singing the music that transfixed my heart and ears, with real ability and musicality. I could not believe it. I desperately wanted to walk up to the stand to join them, to pick up where I had left off so many years ago. I resisted the temptation, but knew there was a seat intended for me there. God had answered my prayer.
This year when I found out the choir was starting up again, I was there. I sang Morten Laudensien songs again. It was better than I remembered. The feeling of really singing, being challenged by music so startlingly beautiful was delicious to me. I felt at home instantly, and realized something I hadn’t before. The prayer I had asked years ago had been answered even as I had given it voice.
A year or two ago my husband and I were talking together, discussing the Christmas lesson we would teach our primary class. We read Luke 2:13-14:
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
As I read the impression came to us both- hadn’t we been part of that choir then– there was a multitude- didn’t we all sing together in the great heavenly choir. Our primary kids were there too.
I have always sung, I will always sing. Not because my voice is so good that it must be shared, but because the act of singing beautiful music with others does something to me. The chords and blend that meld my voice with others have more dimension and weight than anything I can do solo. I bask in the harmony, sigh in resolution. The great undulations of the music move me. It is a spiritual experience: a unity unparalleled–to be one of the voices joining together praising God in glorious sound.
Especially, when it’s by Morten Lauridsen.
Listen to one of my current favorites: Sure On This Shining Night.
p.s. This post is for my husband, who set me to writing this. He claims he doesn’t sing, and doesn’t love choral music, but is letting me slowly persuade him.