The high school I attended was small enough that we had only one music teacher. Our band director was also the choir director. Had that not been the case, I might not have sung in the choir in high school. I loved band. I enjoyed playing my trumpet. And I had deep respect for our band director. One year he assembled a harpsichord from a kit and I helped with some of the work. He also was constantly on the recruit for members for the choir. He was especially short of male singers. So I got recruited, mostly because I wanted to please our music director, not because I though that singing in the choir was something I particularly wanted to do.
I was wrong in my assessment. I enjoyed the choir. The music was challenging for me. I had to work to learn my parts, but when I mastered them, it felt good to sing. I never had a solo voice, though I was given a few small solos in some of the pieces our choir performed. Solos made me nervous and when I was nervous my intonation wasn’t the best. I could more precisely hit the correct notes when I was standing next to other singers who knew their parts.
When I arrived at college, I didn’t go out for choir. I enjoyed some of the concerts performed by our college choir, but I didn’t see myself as a singer. For a short time, I thought that I might be interested in becoming a music teacher or at least have that skill on the side as I pursued the ministry. In addition to some courses I took in music instruction, I also took a class in basic choral direction. The beat patterns were basically the same as for instrumental direction, but there were some things about blending voices, giving cues and instructing accompanists that were not a part of the instrumental conducting course.
I also played the guitar and had some fantasies of being a folk singer, so I learned a lot of songs and did some singing around the campfire. In college, I was a part of a group of traveling students who led worship in area churches. Our services had a lot of music and I sang with the small group at weekly practices and when we toured.
After seminary, our first congregations did not have vocal choirs. We occasionally had a small ensemble or a soloist, but most weeks our routine was congregational singing. I learned to lead congregational music by singing loud enough to be heard. I kept playing my guitar and frequently led singing at youth group meetings, camps and youth rallies.
Later I served a church that had a choir and I sang with the church choir. In that phase of my life, I also organized a small group of youth and adults who sang folk songs for worship and youth events and we had a repertoire of music that we presented.
Choir, however, wasn’t the biggest focus of my life. I didn’t mind singing in the choir, but the choice of music in that particular choir wasn’t all that exciting for me and the nearly constant drama of strong personalities clashing wasn’t my favorite element of the ministry.
When I arrived in Rapid City, the worship style of the congregation was to have the preacher up front in the chancel and the choir in the very back in the balcony. It seemed very awkward for me to try to sing with the choir, so I didn’t. I was comfortable with my role for many years. Over the years, however, the membership of the church choir decreased and once again I found myself in the position of being recruited by a choir director that I respected and wanted to please. Somehow, over the past few years, I have once again become a regular part of the choir, rehearsing weekly and singing anthems every Sunday. It probably isn’t my very favorite part of my ministry, but it is pleasant and the people who are in the choir are fun to be with.
So we begin rehearsals tonight after a summer break for the choir. It is an interesting set of dynamics for me as pastor. As pastor, I have felt that one of the roles I need to play is to support others in leadership. I try to back other staff members and lay volunteers when they are in leadership positions and defer authority to them. I don’t want to act like I’m in charge of everything at the church. So at a choir rehearsal I try very hard to simply be another member of the choir, listening carefully to the choir director and following instructions. I don’t complain about or question the choice of music. I don’t question artistic interpretation. I simply participate. However, I have strong opinions about the choice of music. And I take a different role in staff meetings with the choir director than I do in choir rehearsals. In staff meetings, I lead the process of planning and crafting worship. It is something about which I have very strong opinions and something at which I have a significant amount of skill and experience.
Because we are a congregational church, I am not the one in charge when we are seeking and interviewing candidates for positions. We have lay-led committees who take that responsibility. That means that although my opinion is sought, I’m not the one choosing who is hired to fill a particular position. My role is to support. That means I support whoever is called to a position.
So each choir rehearsal is a bit of a tightrope for me. There are things that I can say in other settings that I don’t say in choir rehearsals. Other members of the choir experience me a bit differently in choir than they do in some other settings. I have to practice keeping my opinions to myself.
Still, I like being in the choir. We have a good choir with capable leaders. And the discipline of not being in charge is very good for me. It may be that I am practicing a life skill that will become very valuable in the years to come.
I’ll keep on singing.