Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ecumenical Singing

Yesterday, at work, we did a carolling experiment. I'm part of a group who is tasked with coming up with cheap/free ways to help with employee morale. I wasn't at the meeting where we decided to do something called flash mob carolling. I'm a little fuzzy about why suddenly converging as if it's an impromptu gathering is better than having an organized and announced session, but that's what was decided. We planned to have our group of employees sing and the music club sing with us, and I think that the hope was that other people would join.

Mostly people just looked on, a bit baffled. They took pictures and video. I did wonder where all those pictures and videos might end up, but I decided that I didn't care. Once upon a time, I thought I could manage my online presence, and I do what I can. But frankly, I've come to decide that if a blog posting here or an innocuous picture there would sink a potential future job search, well, so be it. That was probably a job I wouldn't want anyway.

Here's what was strange about yesterday. Even though our group had decided on this project, people seemed unwilling to sing. The microphones freaked out some people. The cameras freaked out others. We hadn't rehearsed at all, so when the amplified instruments started to play, it was a bit jarring.

Some people protested that they didn't know the songs, even though we had chosen the songs and we had words. Before we started, I said, "Come on, we've been singing these songs our whole lives. We can sing these!"

But then I wondered. I've been singing these songs, and I find Christmas songs easiest to sing and to get right, precisely because I've been singing them my whole life (and listening rather obsessively to them, at least 2 months out of every year). But maybe not everyone has had that experience.

The most surreal moment of the day came when we got to the dreidel song. No one knew it. No one but me! Now this is a song that I haven't sung as much--heck, I've spent chunks of my life in Southern towns where there was not one synagogue. But I knew it. So, I launched in, and we discovered that other people knew it too.

Later I thought, how is it that me, the Lutheran girl knows this song and no one else does?

Or is it that I'm the only fearless one who will sing in front of people? I sometimes forget that my Drama geek training and my years of teaching have made me fairly impervious to the idea that someone might laugh at me or mock me. Mock away! I survived 7th grade, so no one's sneering mockery can scare me anymore.

Again I was saddened by how little any of us sing together anymore. Again I find myself feeling happy that I'm part of a church that still sings together. I'm also part of a folk music group that encourages singing, either alone or in groups. I suspect these kind of group singing opportunities are quickly shriveling.

So, as we think about what churches have to offer to our surrounding culture, let's not forget musical training. Let's joyfully proclaim our determination to preserve this part of our heritage. And for churches who have adopted the star performer/congregation as audience model, I would implore us to go back to our roots: a group of people singing with simple instruments guiding them (or perhaps singing without any instrument except for the one that we all have, the human voice).


Di said...


I love singing with other people (though I'm sometimes a little off-key), and there really aren't a lot of places where that happens (including church, sometimes). But, like prayer, singing together seems to bond relationships a bit closer. I have very precious memories of singing with friends (always in cars, it seems), and they're intimate moments.

HL Meeks said...

I am the designated song leader at our Girl Scout events. Just love to share the songs! I am one of a very few who sing at all, much less at every meeting. Last mtg, we made up a Grace to Winter Wonderland.

Kristin said...

Thanks both of you for your thoughts on singing. I am often amazed at how far I've come in terms of being willing to sing in public. And I love making up songs to the music that other people have composed (very Woody Guthrie of me!).