When I was in third grade I briefly sang in the school choir. I was so excited about choir because I loved music (and so did my good friend). On our first day of choir, my friend and I proudly stood side by side on the front row (because we were tiny and it was the only way to be seen). The music teacher encouraged us to sing loudly so everyone could hear us, and as we became more confident, we sang even more loudly. About a month into this experience, I realized that someone around me was really out of tune and I felt like I struggled to stay in tune as the other person’s voice became louder and louder and overpowered mine. Turns out, it was my good friend’s voice that was growing in confidence and volume faster than she was gaining skill/talent. I enjoyed choir less and less each week as this continued to happen. I also became very aware that I likely wasn’t a good singer either. I then became very worried that I too was bothering or disrupting someone around me with my out of tune and pitchy voice. It wouldn’t have been polite to ask to be moved away from my friend (who was incredibly confident in her singing), especially since I wasn’t sure I was singing any better than her anyway. Without asking for any help or direction from the music teacher, I continued to attend choir, but I began to stop singing out loud and instead began to mouth the words silently. This silent mouthing of words carried with me into adulthood. Within a couple of months I decided that choir wasn’t for me. I withdrew from choir and set my sights on band.
Music is absolutely one of my favorite things in the world. Song lyrics help put my thoughts and feelings into words and help tell the story of my soul better than anything in my life. These days I sing loudly often…but ONLY in my car or at an extremely crowded concert with very lively and rowdy friends around me who drown out my voice. True confession: even after all these years of participating in worship with my family in the church pew, I have only been reading/mouthing the words to the hymns and I haven’t been singing them out loud for fear I will disturb someone around me with my voice.
So, now that you know my childhood choir story, I hope you know what a BIG deal it is that I’ve been singing in the pop-up choir in church these past two Sundays with the children. And yes, I’ve actually been using my voice and singing out loud in public for the first time since third grade. I’m singing out loud in the pop-up choir because I don’t want any of those children to shut down their voices and their musical possibilities as early as I did. (My sincere apologies if you have been standing next to me and have discovered that my singing is actually as bad as what I remember it to be in third grade.) I actually don’t believe my singing is terrible, but that’s the narrative I’ve told myself (and been so worried about) for all these years.
I have loved singing in the pop-up choir these past two weeks. I love that we have at least one child who isn’t even reading yet and yet she memorizes the words and holds the sheet of music and proudly sings and loves every second of it. It is incredibly powerful to watch her lead in worship in this way.
Whether I’m singing, listening, or just mouthing the words, music is often a powerful spiritual experience for me. A few weeks ago I saw the legendary Willie Nelson in concert (yes, I wore braids, a bandana, and a cowboy hat). In case you don’t know, Willie is 89 years old, has released 98 albums, his guitar is named Trigger, and his guitar has an extra hole in it because of all the wear and tear over the years. Willie put on a wonderful concert and I thoroughly enjoyed it and I loved that his son sang with him on stage. At one point in the concert, they started singing gospel songs. They first sang a song called “I Thought About You, Lord” and then they sang “I’ll Fly Away”. Yes, Willie Nelson brought me to tears with these two songs. I spent the two days preceding this concert assisting at church with memorial services for two incredible 20 year-old young women who loved music and loved life. Music has a way of finding our grief and helping us release some of it. And yes, I had a spiritual moment and I felt close to God at a Willie Nelson concert…judge me if you choose (and no, there were no Willie Nelson famous illegal substances involved for me, just sweltering Texas heat). There were also powerful lyrics and good music, sung joyfully by a legend who loves music.
Why am I telling you about childhood choir trauma and Willie Nelson making me cry? Because I want to encourage you to think back to those things, like choir, that you tried at a young age that you wrote off and maybe give them a try again. Maybe your third grade self wasn’t really ready to sing in the choir either, but maybe your 14, 20, 60, or 90 year old self are ready to try it now. If after a rough 89 years (and we all know he’s lived hard), Willie Nelson can sing for over an hour in 100+ degree heat outdoors in Texas, I bet you can try it out in the air-conditioned choir loft next to a confident 4 year-old who can’t even read yet and a 45+ year-old Children’s Director who is finally feeling confident enough to try out her voice again. After all, the scripture says to make a JOYFUL noise to the Lord and worship with gladness, it doesn’t say make a perfect noise.
Come help lead worship and sing with us! Wouldn’t it be amazing to continue to have an intergenerational choir for weeks, months, and years to come? Let’s do it!
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. -Psalm 100:1-2