Singing With the Choir

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.

About Sandra

(Prose Board) recently moved to Texas by way of Baltimore and San Francisco and is adjusting to life in the suburbs. She loves sunlight, color, and expensive dark chocolate. She devours cookbooks like novels and writes a bit at www.section89.com.

18 thoughts on “Singing With the Choir

  1. Okay, this just about makes me cry—probably because once again I’ve been ignored in our music coordinator’s attempts to find special numbers. I suppose I should be grateful that as the ward bulletin lady, I get to find out my disappointments in advance and try to get over them in the privacy of my home.

    Since graduating college, I have somehow managed to get forgotten by the ward music director, regardless of how steady I am as a member of our (anemic) ward choir (many times my husband and I had been the only ones trying to attend, so that it has gotten shut down except for holidays). Instead of being a singer who plays the piano, I’ve become a pianist who sings (if they manage to remember I sing at all). It seems like the wards I’ve lived in since marrying have all had their particular, special singers that are always called upon, and I have yet to figure out how to break into that illustrious group. Like you, I’m not spectacular, but I am good. I miss performing.

  2. We could use you in the Omaha. Back when I sang in the ward choirs there were no auditions. I was even blessed to sing in a choir that performed for a regional event when a member of the First Presidency came to my area. When I was at the MTC, there were no auditions so my companion and I joined the choir. We did not perform outside of the MTC. One of the most powerful moment was when the sisters were silent as we listened to a part for the Elders. I was buoyed up by their words.

  3. I so agree! There are not enough places post-high-school choir for an average, but really good in a choir, music-reading, resonance-loving amateur singing voice to shine. I’m glad you found a home. Still looking for mine.

  4. peyton – have you flat out told the ward music coordinator that you would like to perform? i currently have that calling and would love it if someone volunteered themselves instead of having to try and keep an ear out for people to nag until they finally agree to perform. perhaps they don’t know that you are comfortable performing outside of a choir setting (which i am not).

  5. Your impressions of being one of the heavenly host really resonated with me, because a few months ago I felt the same! I *know* that I was part of that heavenly host.

    I love to sing. I have very little training or experience, but it brings me such joy. Someday, when my life isn’t filled to the brim with other, more pressing tasks, I will give it more prominence in my life. For now, I am content with singing in our tiny ward choir and at home, bowing to the rapturous applause of my toddler.

  6. I auditioned for–and was surprised to get into!–an all-volunteer community choir that did pretty much exclusively classical choral pieces (some holiday stuff, too). It was my first exposure to singing Lauridsen, Mozart, Elgar. I had no idea I could sing anything so difficult! The director is one of those rare people who manages to get spectacular stuff out of musicians without throwing fits. It was such a fantastic experience for me, and even though Monday night rehearsals were a grueling (for me) three hours, I looked forward to them every week. Unfortunately, for some personal/medical reasons I won’t go into, I had to take a break, but I hope to return one day.

    I wonder if there’s anything like that in your community? Some of the choir members also told me that they’d sung with choirs at local universities, even though they weren’t students. I think there are probably more homes for amateur vocalists than we realize!

  7. Debra & Strollerblader—yes, I have. And after being told last year that she would definitely have something for me, which didn’t pan out, and after jumping up and down when she was looking for members for a small ensemble for the 30th this year, which has turned into a solo by the same woman that sung last year (the cause of my current … Irritation is not the right word), I’m sick of it. I’d say, “Never again,” except I know the music lady’ll probably be moving in June. Maybe I’ll get up the urge again once I see who replaces her. But it’s almost made me question how good a friendship I have with this woman, even. I shouldn’t take it all so personally, but I’m having such a hard time setting it aside.

  8. Peyton- I am sorry. Those who love to sing should. Maybe organize your own ensemble of friends and then go to her with your group proposal.

    Laura- That sounds wonderful. Just like any good thing- it is all about finding the time. Right now the seasonal stake gig is just enough.

    Melissa Y.- I’m so glad you are enjoying the music. I’m honored to introduce you to it.

  9. The “O Magnum Mysterium” link actually links to the de Victoria setting of the text–not that I have anything against Victoria–but a version of the Lauridsen setting is here: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pyDKVO1LjxQ

    Peyton, since you’re the ward bulletin person, I think you should just schedule yourself to sing some Sunday in place of the rest hymn. ;) *evil laugh*

    Oh, and as a teacher of singing, I totally second the advice to look in the community or contact your local institution of higher education for opportunities to join a choir or do community musical theater. Or take voice lessons! A good teacher should be able to direct you to musical opportunities or create them through studio recitals and things like that.

  10. Peyton,
    Perhaps you could find out when the Young Women are having their Night of Excellence or New Beginnings program and offer to sing at one of them. Maybe even sing with one of the Young Women if she is afraid to sing alone, but enjoys singing. Offer to sing with the Primary children during their annual program. Our ward has youth firesides every month (or we try) and I know our leaders would love to have someone share his or her musical talents. Good luck.

  11. What a beautiful post for me to read on my birthday. I really resonated with everything you wrote about the affect of choral music and choral experiences on the soul. It’s a legacy I hope to pass down to my children as it was passed on to me.

  12. Awesome. I love to sing even though I’m not a soloist. I have always skipped out on ward choirs, maybe I will give it a try sometime.

  13. I’ve been listening to the John Rutter Christmas album since early October. It is so lovely and virtuous and of good report and praiseworthy!

  14. What a beautiful, soaring post. You all are so lucky. I can’t hear parts, can’t hear pitch and pretty well know I wasn’t in a Heavenly choir. I miss this joy. My high school choir director told me I was futile and asked me not to sing in his choir competitions. Hey, I’m not raining on your parade, but I hope you are thankful for your particular blessing.

  15. Last night I sang in my Stake’s Christmas Musical Fireside, and it was amazing.

    There were mistakes made – some obvious, some only to those singing/playing – but it all came together and everyone enjoyed it.

    I’m in the ward choir, and can’t sight read. I kind of know the note to look at it, but once I’ve sang the song a couple of times, I remember the notes, and sing to that. I am nowhere near solo or duet talented, but last night I sang as part of a sextet. I know I wasn’t invited to join in because I’m talented, but because I’m a good, dependable low alto who always turns up to practices and the events. And last night, that was perfectly fine with me.

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