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Hope and Healing…In Ward Choir?

Today’s guest post comes from Kirsten Holt Beitler, who is an artist, wife, teacher, and mother of four boys, not necessarily in that order depending on the day. She writes about her life, her artwork,her kids, adoption, being a Mormon, her love of chickens, and anything else she wants to on her blog, My Brush With Life at kirstenbeitler.com.

I’ve been surrounded by music my whole life. My dad is a band teacher and a piano tuner, my grandpa wrote music, played the guitar and harmonica Dylan-style before there was a Dylan. The highlight of every Christmas Eve was the family talent show and sing-along. All of this naturally led me to become….an artist. Right, I know. But you have to understand, as much as I love music, I also have a pretty serious problem with performance anxiety. Piano lessons were fine, but since I never figured out how to read the music and did everything by ear, when it came time to perform in front of people my over-distressed senses would crash and it would all come out wrong. No way was I going to join the band. I really enjoyed choir, but by the time I got to high school, I had figured out that I could be an okay artist. Art is a pretty solitary pursuit, with a lower of level of anxiety attached to it. Music was shoved to the side. I was left at an interesting level. I have a very good ear, but not much actual musical knowledge to back it up.
This brings me to ward choir. Much can be said about ward choir; it won’t be said here. Sometimes I stay away from the choir, sometimes I’m guilted into it, and sometimes I enjoy it. Sometimes we really suck, sometimes we’re okay, sometimes it seems that angels come and join in, bringing a sound and spirit that was definitely not there at practice.
I joined back up after a two year break because I wanted the chance to sing Christmas music. I enjoy the worship aspect that is involved as I stretch myself to sing praises to God. Our choir was huge for the Christmas program. We sounded pretty good. After Christmas, I felt like I had to keep going, but more than half the choir didn’t feel the same. Now we are pretty pathetic little bunch. We had begun to work on the Easter program music when my father-in-law went from a sore throat to a diagnosis of terminal anaplastic thyroid cancer in 3 weeks. This was devastating for our family. Terry is a robust, energetic man. A legendary backpacker, basketball player and referee, an extraordinary grandpa, scout leader of 40+ years, a craftsman, a photographer and a singer with a beautiful, rumbly deep bass voice.

We’ve spent the last 2 weeks in a whirlwind of doctors, phone calls and visits with people who want to see Terry before it gets too horrible. For me, this news coming on the tail end of the previous month which was a similar whirlwind of diagnosis and treatment for my mom who has breast cancer, proved to be a bit much for me. I could feel myself closing in and shutting down. I was filled with anxiety and sadness. I did not go to choir practice.

Yesterday I felt the guilt driving me back. I’m sure the 2 altos, 2 sopranos, 2 tenors and 1 bass (who had to play the piano because our accompanist didn’t show up) were glad to see me, even though I didn’t come with a very good attitude. Then an interesting thing happened when we started singing. I felt my heart start to open up. I felt the Spirit wrap around me in a warm hug. I felt the words we were singing sink deep into all my pain, anxiety, and sadness and cover them like a bandage over a wound. “When I am bound, and held by chains, He’ll wipe each tear, and take each pain. He’ll ease each grief, restore my soul, on wings again to soar, that I may rise eternally, in Him I’m truly free. He lives, My Savior lives!” (My Savior Lives, Words by Gary Croxall, Music by Kathleen Holyoak)  I struggled to keep singing and hold in the tears so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself in front of my fellow choir members as I thought about Terry, about how he couldn’t sing any more, but how he was at peace with everything that was happening, how he soon will be free of this life and the pain that he is in, and even better, free eternally because of the good man that he is, the life that he has lead, and most importantly, through the Atonement of our Savior, which covers our human mistakes, and the pains of our bodies and our souls.

I’m still sad, but now I don’t feel like that sadness is going to break me in half. Who knew peace and healing could come from going to ward choir?

7 thoughts on “Hope and Healing…In Ward Choir?”

  1. I really needed to hear this. I need to understand how to let Him ease my pain and grief. I am not quite there yet.

    Thank you so much for sharing! I'm so sorry about the hardships your family is experiencing.

    Reply
  2. I, too, believe in the healing power of ward choir — and in singing praises. My experiences in choir have provided me with more than beautiful (or sometimes not-so-much) music; they have provided me with humor and comraderie and brotherhood and, even loving, intimate suppport through hard times. I have had some very sacred experiences in supporting others during interrupted choir practices, when deep pain bubbles up to the surface.

    Also, choir has been such a great way to quickly get to be friends with people. We do so much joking around during choir practice. Plus, people are exposing their vulnerabilities when you have to sing stuff you don't know in front of others (when your section — which in many cases ends up being a solo or duet — goes over their parts separately). We have a lot of fun at choir, and we get to know people like you just don't get to passing them in the halls during church.

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  3. Thank you for articulating your experience. This line is wonderful: "I felt the words we were singing sink deep into all my pain, anxiety, and sadness and cover them like a bandage over a wound." I'm not a "music person"; nevertheless, I have sometimes felt it's power to communicate the spirit. Your blog post encourages me to pursue more devotional music in my life as a way to invite spiritual transformation. Thank you for contributing your experience.

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  4. Thanks for sharing iris experience.

    I'm actually a string musician, but was called as the ward choir director. At times I have struggled with this calling–mainly because in order for it to succeed one needs other people's voluntary support. Some people try and tell me that I should guilt people into coming, but I simply don't feel it is an effective approach to leadership.

    Instead, I've tried to enlist the support of the bishopric and choose music that anyone can sing, meanwhile trying to eradicate the myth that you have to be a trained musician to participate in ward choir.

    At one of our recent rehearsals I shared a spiritual epiphany with them that I think is appropriate here: just as ordinances involve a physical demonstration to an inner spiritual commitment, worshipful singing actually functions similarly. As we sing and vocalize words of love and devotion to God that we believe in, we physically pull something from within ourselves, uniting the body and spirit in a sacred act. It is covenantal in nature, and is why it is answered with a "blessing on [our] heads."

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  5. Kirsten, I recently joined choir after several years away. Thanks for this multifaceted offering–about love, grief, music, worship, the atonement, family.

    Amanda, thanks for the profound insight about music as a type of covenant. It's a gem I'll hold on to and come back to for a long time.

    Reply
  6. I will not and cannot sing on my own, but love raising my voice in the ward choir. I have no idea what the audience gets out of it, but the notes and words (and even angels' help hitting the higher – for an alto – notes) are a balm for and to me.

    Thank you for sharing, and my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

    Reply

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