Here’s the building where we sang yesterday afternoon. Long ago, there was an annual Great Day of Singing. Last year, in order to raise money for a roof on a church built in 1861, the oldest in our town, we reinstituted the custom. This was therefore the Second Re-Annual Great Day of Singing. Our church choir went up on Mt. S to join in.
I think it went well. Hard to say; you never know what your choir sounds like, since you’re standing right in the middle of it, but I was happy with my solo.
There were seven choirs. First was a group that “meets primarily for fellowship.” They had an average age of about ninety, but they also had a fine young soloist who did them proud, singing the melody in a medley of songs while they did the do-wop bits.
The medley focused on songs about how very soon they’d be in heaven. “I’m just traveling through,” they sang, “This world is not my home,” “Soon we’ll reach that further shore.” I wondered if it was really tasteful to have a choir that elderly singing a song like that.
We were next. We sang “Send It On Down” and “Order My Steps.” Our organist practically burnt the piano up. In fact, there were three really fabulous painists there that day, a circumstance which made a big difference. There was also one little lady who entirely lost her place and had to vamp till she could figure out where the choir had gotten to, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
We were followed by the chancel choir of the big downtown Methodist church. They have had some very good music leaders in the past, they have an excellent organist, they have an impressive collection of recording equipment, and they have a lot of young people in the choir. They sang a piece by John Rutter.
You might think I’d be envying them. Not so. Their current director is a nice woman, and fun to watch, but her directing style is bizarre. I saw her last year, and she has improved. She’s keeping the beat now. However, she still does things like pinching her fingers together (as though to end a word) on every beat, throwing her hands up in enthusiasm all of a sudden, and adding strange hula-like movements for no apparent reason. Her choir could have sounded much better than it did.
They were followed by the only children’s choir of the afternoon. I offer this picture, though as you know I generally avoid pictures of humans, because there’s no other way to show the cheerful chaos involved. Getting the children up onto the stage, including the ones who had fallen asleep and had to be awakened, was like any herding activity. But the sound girl crawling around trying to get them all hooked up, the technical difficulties, the discovery that one of their solists was in the bathroom… It was fun, and they were very cute. I don’t think anyone minded the chaos.
Indeed, no one minded anything. The children were followed by a massed choir medley of songs like “There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood” and “Blessed Assurance,” which many of those present rememebered fondly from their childhood camp meetings.
Then the little choirs sang. It always seems odd to me that we’re counted as a big choir, but there are little churches on the edges of the town with choirs of five or six. They invariably sound horrible, just horrible. It’s hard to believe that people are able to worship every week with sounds like that in their buildings. I like the little choir from the historically African-American church, actually. We no longer have any segregated churches in town, praise the Lord, but this church is where the African-American octegenarians go, and they have a different sound. It is possible to listen to them with interest because it is an exotic horrible sound. Their choir director is also their pianist, and directs them from the piano. He’s a white guy, a former actor, very funny in a campy sort of way. He tried to lead the massed choirs in a second medley from the piano, a difficult feat since he was behind most of us.
“You might as well close your eyes,” he shrieked at us. Fortunately, BigSax got up and directed us from the front, which might be less picturesque but worked better.
I tried, after that, to listen to the other tiny choirs with the same level of appreciation, but they were singing things like “And Can It Be,” which is a gorgeous song, and it sounded as though it were being sung by a couple of loud humans at slightly different speeds supported by a collection of barnyard animals.
Here’s the thing: it didn’t matter. It was the experience of the day.
The musicians were sitting together at the reception later, eating brie and fruit, and the director of one of the tiny choirs came up and said, “Did anyone record that?”
There was a moment of silence. Then rueful shakings of the head. Some of the children’s choir parents had recorded their kids’ solos with their cell phones, but that was all.
“I think those things are better as a full experience,” I said. Really, no one would want to hear that. It was only because we were sitting together in the old camp building fanning ourselves and sharing the afternoon that it was great.