Normally, when I write these posts, I don’t write them out before. I just sit down and start typing; whatever you all see is what is flowing through my fingers. This post however, was written out during church this morning. Maybe not the best time, but for some reason it was given to me then. It was suggested that I set the scene as it were for the post. Choirs mean different things to different people. It was a good suggestion.
I go to an Independent Baptist Church in the rural, Southern United States.
We are a small congregation. We are not fancy. We are just plain folk. We don’t wear choir robes and none of us have had formal voice training.
The choir sits to the right of the pulpit on the raised platform. The church has burgundy carpet and set padding. The pulpit, communion table and pews are all made from light wood. The crosses in the stained glass windows light up when the sun shines through them just right.
Can you see it???
The reason I tell you this is because I want to talk about the choir.
I am the choir leader. There are a couple of things that make this problematic. We currently don’t have a piano player and I am an alto. Now, for those of you who do not know about Southern hymn singing, there are for basic parts written for these songs. Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. The Alto sings the lower female parts and we are the queens of repeats. One little boy once asked me how long I had been “a backup singer”. It took me a while to realize he was talking about how I sang the alto parts. In his eyes, I was backing them up.
We have had our struggles but we have made it work. When the pastor came and asked me to take on this role, I debated it. After all, I am just the back up singer. I have sang harmony for many years. The choir leader should sing the melody of the song. These people are looking at you for timing, for tempo, and for tune. I am an alto, I sing “off” the other people. I am the contrast.
How can I do this? I have to stand up in front of people and tell them what the opening song will be. I don’t like being up in front of people. Yet, I have to have people stand and sing, to make a joyful noise.
Then you look back and some appear pained to make the attempt. It can be defeating if you let it. So, I stand, announce the page and sing to the clock. If you don’t want to sing, I can’t make you, I can however not allow it to affect me.
As the rear ends hit the seats before the last note of the congregational song ends, I turn to the choir.
I announce the song and I see the look in their eyes, we may not have sang the song in a while or ever. They aren’t sure why I chose the song. There are times I don’t know why. I do know that if it is good or if it is bad, once we start out, we are going there together.
As I prepare for the first note to leave my lips, I have heard the intro in my head. They are not sure where I am taking them but there is a level of trust. They know I am not leading them somewhere to leave them. I am going right along with them and if they struggle, I will kick it up a notch to keep them safe.
There are times I throw them a curve ball, they give me a distressed look and I look back, smile and nod and we take off.
Being the only alto, I from time to time have to let someone else take control. My job is to hold the note from the verse until they take off with the chorus then I add the repeats.
I can’t sing all the parts. That is why choirs exist. It is a group of people who sing together. Not everyone sings the same parts.
We all have our notes to sing. We all have different talents and abilities. There are certain songs that the kids like to sing. I lower my volume and let them sing loud, strong and joyfully. These songs are their time to shine. They don’t need me drowning them out or killing their exuberance. Let them sing “Holding up the ladder” at the top of their lungs so loudly and so innocently that you can almost see the ladder.
You see, I was once that little girl who sang too loudly, who sang out of tune. I was the one who they told to sing more quietly (although I didn’t listen).
One of these little girls may be standing in that same spot one day. There have been many before me, I want to show them how to be a leader.