A Simple Praise, Part 1

We didn't have to go this far back in time, but...sigh. Anyway, this IS a story about singing, so work with me.

Let’s travel back to when Lorna was still married. Chuck was the Chairperson of the Music Ministry in his local Methodist Church. Lorna was a failed Methodist, but the small church choir needed a good-enough soprano voice. Chuck asked Lorna to help them. That’s how Lorna started going to church regularly for several years beginning in 2003. This story is about her experience in that little church choir…

This is more like the singing group you should be picturing. The Not-So-Fab-Four.

What do characters in a hokey Hollywood musical and a small church choir have in common?  Heart, that’s what.  With the odds against them, tons of drama and a lot of hard work, the ending is nothing short of astounding. Maybe it’s great in  Hollywood musicals, but I’ve found that being astounded isn’t always a good thing in my life.

Take Babes in Arms starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.  Mickey plays a plucky guy conveniently named Mickey. He’s a tough-nut that comes from show-biz stock and wants to be a star; but he, Patsy (Judy Garland’s character) and some other hooligans are sentenced to school so they can become honorable citizens like bankers and politicians. Mickey cooks up a scheme to avoid education.  He has one month to convince the judge that these spirited scallywags belong in show business, not respectable society.

They didn't need school when they had street signs like that to support them.

How does Mickey do it?  He puts on the show to end all shows.  They’re poor as dust, but willing to work hard. With the help of kind town folks and mammoth Hollywood magic, they produce a show with glittering costumes, elaborate set designs, a cast of hundreds and a full orchestra.

That's astounding!

The only trouble is Mickey’s ego. He’s torn between the heady lure of guaranteed fame and keeping his velvet-voiced sweetheart Patsy. The suspense is almost too much to handle.

Chuck’s Methodist rural church choir didn’t have Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, or mammoth Hollywood magic.  It had eleven well-intended, devout volunteers on the best days and five or fewer on the worst days.  The only qualification for being in the choir was the desire and courage to sing.  Being able to walk to the choir loft and stand and sit without assistance was also a plus since most of the choir members, unlike Mickey’s crew, were Medicare-eligible.

The Soprano section soothing their vocal chords before rehearsal.

Most of the choir members couldn’t read music, either—not because of impaired vision, but because of impaired or missing musical training.  Some members sang by memory and another only sang her favorite notes. Off key. We rehearsed for forty minutes before the service for the music we sang that morning.  Sometimes we rehearsed pieces for future weeks, but not always.  Musically, we were on the “it’s better than listening to another sermon” side of pathetic. But we had beautiful robes, making us appear melodious, pious and prepared.

Some of us wanted to venture beyond the simple hymns found in the standard hymnal.  We fantasized about real rehearsals during the week and actually being ready for snazzy anthems.  I could imagine Mickey’s voice pleading with the judge, “Golly, your Honor, it sure would be swell if you would let us give it a try.  I know we could do it!”

Chuck, our choir’s unofficial leader, approached Choir Director with a request for an anthem requiring more than two-part harmony. He replied, “I’m not sure we’re ready for anything that complicated. We have so little time for rehearsals. Most of you don’t read music and I never know who’s going to show up from one Sunday to the next.”

Choir Director tried to stay calm in the face of what he saw as a brewing storm.

Mickey would’ve said, “That may be true. But, Sir, we have something more important than time or talent. We have heart!

Chuck said, “You never know what we can do until you challenge us. We’re ready for a challenge, aren’t we?” He looked around the choir loft. Some of us were nodding enthusiastically and others had a wide-eyed look of either confusion or optimism; it was hard to tell.

The choir director gave up agreed. Since the average age in our choir was 75, we simply smiled and nodded in thanks. Mickey’s gang would’ve jumped and cheered; that kind of behavior in our choir could’ve caused a cardiac calamity. We couldn’t afford to lose anyone due to joy.

Choir Director chose A Simple Praise for our “someday anthem.”  He played it for us; we listened.  It was beautiful and had  a few key changes and some odd harmonies. Perfect.

He began with the sopranos, who had the melody for most of the song.  Over half of the choir sang soprano because they got to sing the melody, not because their vocal range was high.  Most were women, but we had men who sang the melody an octave lower.  I was the only soprano who comfortably sang at or above the top of the staff. On pitch. On good days. “Pitch,” outside of baseball and barnyard work with hay, was a foreign concept to that choir.

Another view of the sopranos. From a distance, we don't look as old. I'm the one on the far right.

The sopranos sang through the first two pages. The piano stopped; most of the sopranos didn’t. They each ended in their own time and on various notes.  I heard a faint, pained sound from Choir Director, who was usually such an optimistic fellow.

“What’s that?” one of the sopranos asked me quietly, pointing to a half note.

“That’s a half note,” I said.

“What does that mean?”

“You hold the note for two beats.”

“What’s a beat?”

Stay tuned to see if this choir with heart was up for the challenge…

~ by Lorna's Voice on December 11, 2011.

36 Responses to “A Simple Praise, Part 1”

  1. We had all kinds of heart…and pace makers, too!

  2. Gosh … all choirs seem to have lots of dedicated singers – ummmm – persons full of heart. ~~~~ : – )

  3. Thanks for the support (in all ways)! 🙂

  4. Courage to sing is like courage to write. Thanks for having both, love visiting your pages and will be back for another dose of giggles soon 🙂

  5. Choir Director was fairly young (meaning about my age at the time or a little younger). He was doing his best to pick music that was basic and within our collective talent range (a range that would have gotten us gonged on the Gong Show within the first minute). I was brought in because one anthem required a high soprano descant and my husband asked me to do it. Once I did it, the director asked me if I would be willing to join the choir to keep the sopranos on key and strengthen the section. My problem is that I fall off pitch easily. When I hold pitch, my voice is nice, but…

    Read on. This is more than a story about an off key choir. 😉

  6. If the choir director is as old as most in the choir, at lease he has the option of turning down the volume in his hearing aid. I almost spilled my coffee at the end when you described the half-note and beat thing. God bless them – they do have heart. Voice – not so much… 😀

  7. Guess what? I quit the choir a while ago! 🙂

  8. Welcome! Glad you stopped in and commented. Choir Director didn’t look AT ALL like Simon, but the look he had that day did! 🙂

  9. Some of us learned a valuable lesson in humility. Others learned a little something about reading music… 😉

  10. Nice post! It’s hard to be part of something that doesn’t quite measure-up. Can’t wait to see what happens.

  11. –first time here, Lorna 🙂
    & I’m so glad I stopped by…..
    btw, Your choir director looks exsactly like Simon Cowell!! haaaaaaaaaaaa

  12. Yes a fine read but guess what?
    I am not joining your choir 🙂 😉 lol

    Have a wicked
    one this evening Lorna 🙂

    Androgoth XXx

  13. Yes, and the story has only just begun.

  14. Yes, these days, I sing in the car mostly. I can’t hold my pitch very well. At least I know it. 😉

  15. Still no time for compiling the stories for the book. I’m so busy with reading other blogs and finishing up stories that will possibly go into the book. I con’t decide whether I’m procrastinating or just finding it hard to manage my time. I’m also trying to do some quilting for holiday gifts. Whew! Busy, busy, busy… But you know more about that then I do. 😉

  16. Oh good, you’ll like what’s coming next, then!

  17. Yeah, I’m having some of PTSD myself. But, by golly, we had heart!

  18. This caused some traumatic flashbacks for me of my days in a church choir. Oh well, that’s what the Xanax are for.

    The wolves should cut a demo.

  19. Loved this. I’m a choir veteran so I know what your’e talking about

  20. Laughed throughout this piece, it takes a talented writer to continually make their readers laugh (and cry as with other posts). How’s the book coming? -Lee

  21. LOL! I am a horrible singer but love to do it. I try to confine it to the car though. 🙂 Charming story!

  22. Oh, dear…

  23. Glad you liked this post. I should stick with singing in my car, not in choir lofts. That should give you a hint. 😉

  24. Thanks. This was a funny episode in my life, now that I look back at it. 😉

  25. I can read music, but can’t hold my pitch worth a darn. I sat between one person who was always sharp and another who was always flat. Oy vey!

  26. You were the organist, eh? So you know all about church choir politics… 😉

  27. Thanks! 🙂

  28. Very funny post. I loved the captions under the photos.

  29. Oh, the stories we have about church choirs, those of us who’ve been through it. (I was the organist). Oh dear.

  30. I’m musically illiterate so I shouldn’t laugh. But I did.

  31. Great post – I especially love the photo of the soprano section soothing their vocal chords!

  32. Love this post! I would be the person asking “What’s a beat?” I can’t read music, but I sure can sing to the top of my lungs. Parties are my favorite. That way I can sing with wild abandonment….badly….and blame it all on the alcohol. I got this. Looking forward to this storyline. Thanks Lorna!

  33. Ah, you know what this was like, then! You will enjoy the story as it progresses. 😉

  34. Yes, we were quite the bunch of musically-challenged, but good-hearted souls. 🙂

  35. I can imagine the confusion and the ending dialogue; too funny. Couldn’t stop laughing at that for a minute. Bless their hearts though. As part of the choir, what can you do but smile and follow their lead…

  36. Since I married the man who volunteered to be choir director (for 40 years) and got roped into rejoining the choir, (I sang for years before he became director and I went off to grad school) I laughed through this whole post. Especially the ones who sang off key and didn’t know the music.

    So “been there, done that.” 🙂

Silence can be just what the doctor ordered. You know I'm a doctor, right?

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