Tuesday, September 7, 2010

In the singing, in the silence

In the singing, in the silence,
In the hands expectant, open,
In the blessing, in the breaking,
In your presence at this table:
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, be the wine of grace
Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, be the bread of peace.

Today was the first day of classes.  There's far too much going on to even begin to discuss what today was like - but I ended the day in choir, and some thoughts stuck with me as I drove home.

I've joined a few choirs since graduating, and in every choir, as I'm meeting someone new, we get around to:  "Where did you sing before now?"

And I say:  "St. Olaf."

"St. Olaf" is a magic password in choirs in Minnesota.  It seems like everyone knows of the choir, and most have heard them, and many many many think that everyone who sang in an Olaf choir is going to be a. maz. ing. 

I do not contest this.  Olaf produces fantastic singers.  The trouble for me is that, as a graduate of St Olaf and the member of a choir, I am expected to be  a. maz. ing.  And I am... okay.

I have a good voice, but it's nowhere near the quality it was in college.  I can't sightread - I've always struggled, and I managed to get by in choir by listening to everyone around me until I could get to a piano and pound it out.  And my tone is...well...it was a bit better when I was rehearsing eight hours a week.  I know exactly how good I could be, and I know that I'm not.
In addition, my ear is trained well enough to catch the mistakes around me - the missed notes, the dragged sss, the gasping breaths, the glottal starts, the untamed vibratos, the harsh tones, the triplet that isn't...and on and on.

So I hate singing in choir, because
a) I can hear everything that's going wrong with everyone around me, but also
b) I can hear everything that's going right, and
c) I feel that I sing more with the (a) side than the (b) side of things, and
d) I feel like everyone who's singing correctly is staring daggers at me, prepared to write a strongly worded letter to Dr. Armstrong stating that my name should be stricken from the annals of St. Olaf Choir alums because THIS GIRL IS NOT ACTIVELY DEMONSTRATING THAT SHE KNOWS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PERFECT AND AUGMENTED FOURTH.

(And I do!  I just can't sightread it!)

The difficulty is that I love choir.  I always have.  So I am continually drawn to an activity where I feel continually and simultaneously judgmental and judged.  I don't want to sing, because I can hear all the other notes and tonalities going wrong - but I love to sing.  I don't want to sing, because the "better" singers will hear all my mistakes - but I love to sing.

As I meditated (read:  grumbled & worried) over this on my drive home, I started thinking about choir in the larger context of my calling and of the next four years of my life.

I love the church.  I love the stories of God and God's people, and I love to tell them.  I love God's people, and I love to be with them.  I love liturgy, and Scripture, and sacrament.  I love Bible study, and theology, and food shelves.

And I love all of these things even though they often cause stress or make me feel judged or devour more of my time and energy than I can truly spare.

For the next four years, I will be trained to sing the stories of God's people.  Sometimes I will sing them alone, with no choir to guide my wavering voice.  Sometimes I will sing them with others, and we will struggle to bring our songs together in harmony.  Sometimes others will sing, and I will find their songs so beautiful that I am afraid to ever sing again and taint the song.  Sometimes I will sing, and sing very badly, and those who hear will cover their ears.
But - I pray - most of the time, we will sing, and it will be a joyful noise unto the Lord.

May God make me worthy of the singing.

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