When you sing five masses in a weekend, it gives you a lot of time to think. This past weekend, as I tried to fit both swallowing and taking a breath into a quarter rest, I began to ponder the hidden message in there: that sometimes you need to just fit everything in – or choose not to. It didn’t take me very long to come up with a list of some of the other life lessons I’ve learned from singing at church. Here are a few.
There’s something for everyone.
Without fail, every time we sing a song that makes me grit my teeth, someone comes up to me afterward and tells me how much they loved it. It’s not up to me to police taste, and I should let people find solace and delight where they find it. In fact, most of the time, it doesn’t matter what my opinion is.
I can’t control other people (but I can try to lead them).
I have become pretty good at encouraging the assembly to sing with my words, voice, and gesture. Singing confidently and rhythmically without being overpowering, keeping my face bright and pleasant, and using a clear gesture that is not distracting go a long way to getting people singing. But there will always be those days when the assembly looks back with a collective glare that says “you are not getting one note out of me, lady”. So I keep doing my thing, though I have become more sensitive to other speakers and singers when I’m the one in the pew/seat/audience. Turns out the person in front of you can see you.
I will make mistakes.
In my years singing into a microphone with regularity, I have made some amplified errors. Most of the time, the pastoral thing is to keep going without any indication that I have flubbed (if I botch a note on a new hymn, chances are they don’t know the tune either). I have perfected the “I didn’t just make a mistake” face, and use it with regularity.
Try to look nice.
You are less of a distraction if no one is fixated on your cowlick.
My job is to keep going.
People tend to gasp when I say this, but I can’t count how many times I’ve kept singing the mass parts while someone in the assembly is taken out by EMTs. What good does it do if we stop the liturgy? It just draws more attention to someone who is probably already embarrassed. Also, I have no medical training, so it’s not like I should be helping. Things fall off the walls, doors slam, children cry, I keep singing.
If you stand up straight and use your arms, you will get featured in a lot of promotional photos.
There’s no metaphor in that one, it’s just true. I tell my students that all the time.
Where do you learn your life lessons?