I’ve been singing in my church choir for a number of years now. When I first began I was a practically silent member because I was terrified to sing loud enough to be heard. I feared being off-key or hitting the wrong notes and so would stand out.
Those fears are not irrational because I have no formal music training. I remember being enrolled in a junior high music class, but we didn’t learn how to read notes. All we did was sing old-timey songs like “The Erie Canal” that made no sense to a young child.
I’ve always loved music. In high school I bought a portable radio and took it everywhere with me. If we were picnicking or visiting relatives, it was on. Only in the privacy of my room did I sing aloud, primarily because my father told me I couldn’t carry a tune. But I loved the way the words moved me, the way the melody carried me away in its wake.
Our church had a choir and so I was able to sing along, enriching the experience for me. But I was terrified to join. When I worked up the nerve to go to a rehearsal, I expected to be laughed out of the room. When it didn’t happen, I became emboldened and returned week after week, but not singing louder for I was learning how the rise and fall of notes carry the melody.
Things went well at first. There were about five of us who showed up on a regular basis. All of the others were experienced singers, most with formal training. I attempted to blend in and not destroy the music. But one Sunday morning none of the others came. It was just me and the pianist. At first I felt like sitting in the pews with the congregation. When the choir director smiled at me and told me I could do it, I stood there and gave it my besteffort. I know I flubbed some words and notes, but I survived.
After a six year hiatus, I recently returned to the choir. Maybe it’s my age, but I’ve made some major mistakes. I’ve sung the wrong lines for verses until I realized what I was doing. Instead of singing “desert and wasteland will bloom” I sang waistband. More than once. When I realized what I had done, my knees weakened and I felt a blush creep up my neck. I listened for snickers from the congregation, but either they didn’t hear or they were too polite to laugh.
I came back the following week, determined to get all the words right. Unfortunately the director cranked up the mics, so every little thing I did wrong blasted back at me. I sang rhyming words instead of the right one. I got lost and mumbled, but pretended that I knew what I was doing. I thought about quitting, thinking that I was destroying the holiness of the moment, but I keep coming back. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, or maybe at my age I’m already starting to lose my faculties, but I’m determined not to give up.
I am a natural alto, but I’ve been singing the melody, which is for sopranos. My choir director decided I should sing the alto parts in the worship music. To help myself, I record the part during rehearsal and go over it, again and again before church. The song begins, I sing, but when we come to my part, I fabricate notes.
This past Sunday I didn’t think my mic was working. I sang louder, thinking maybe the sound level was turned down. That was a huge mistake for several reasons: my voice cracked, I ran out of breath and I had a hard time hitting the right notes. After Mass I found out that the mic wasn’t working. What a relief!
Despite all the stupid things I do, the choir director hasn’t asked me to leave. I’m sure I’ll substitute more words and hit more wrong notes. But I’ll keep singing anyway.