I prayed twice last month. In truth, I prayed more than twice last month, but I prayed once in a way that counted for two: I joined the choir.
There’s an old saw – sometimes attributed to St. Augustine, sometimes to St. Francis – that “he who sings prays twice.” When we sing our words, they become more meaningful and more beautiful than when we speak them. We pray the words and we pray the song – two for one.
Music has been a part of divine worship since our earliest days. Miriam played a tambourine to glorify God. David played the harp. The Psalms are the songbook of the Old Testament. Martin Luther wrote several hymns that remain in our hymnal today, as did Charles Wesley. The chants and canticles of the Anglican tradition also reach back to the era of the Reformation. The idea that we can worship without song is a relatively new idea, and not a good one.
Before singing with the choir in church on October 14, and again on December 9, I attended Wednesday choir practice from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. It had been 17 years since I last rehearsed with a choir, and I was not sure how it was going to go. I needed to push through my fears of performing in public, of missing my notes, of dragging down the team. The anthem text we rehearsed that night seemed entirely appropriate: “Happy and blessed are they who have endured...”
Hubert Minton made all the difference at my first rehearsal. Hubert, a warm-hearted bass who has been singing in Holy Communion’s choir for many years, helped me find my way. (He also helped me find my notes!) By the time Dr. David Ouzts, Holy Communion’s minster of music and liturgy, called us to order, I was in my seat, my musical partner was by my side, and a well-organized music folder was in my hand. I was ready to go.
David led rehearsal with his delightful Southern lilt and understated wit. We began with some basic warm-up exercises, then some hymns, and then the more significant works on our agenda for the evening. Dr. Jane Gamble played the accompaniment so David could focus on his singers. We all had to work on finding our notes. We all had to fix our rhythms and harmonies. I had been away from singing for a long time, but the loft felt safe and warm.
Somewhere along the line, most of us have been told we can’t sing. It’s a lie. Of course, we do not sound like the digitally-enhanced superstars we hear on the radio. Of course, ordinary people are not as proficient as people with advanced degrees in music. Of course, it’s harder to sing in public now that Americans only do it in church and at baseball games. But, none of that means we can’t sing.
What would have happened if someone had told Miriam that she couldn’t play, or David that he couldn’t dance, or Martin Luther than the couldn’t write? What would have happened if they believed it? From the very beginning, God’s faithful people have found their prayers in song. Today is no different than yesterday.
The Parish Choir meets together, prays together (twice!), and supports each other when life gets hard. I spent two Sunday mornings with the choir last fall and went to a total of four practices; I already feel like a part of the group. I hope everyone reading this essay will give the choir at least that much of a try. You won’t regret it.