I went to a choir concert a few weeks ago, which spurred many thoughts.
I have a long history with choir singing — grew up in girls’ choir, attended choir camp faithfully every summer, sung through college, and following college, was able to make a small career out of my singing habit. But about a year ago, I realized I was a bit burnt out and decided to take a break.
One of my friends sings with this very talented group, and a mutual group of friends had extra tickets to her show. So we went.
Being out of the choral scene for most of a year has given me an interesting perspective on it; sitting there in the pew, several different thoughts flooded over me during the show.
First: choral music is an acquired taste, and sometimes it’s just objectively odd if you haven’t been exposed to it. For me, it’s often more pleasurable to sing it than to listen to it. Several of the pieces were very “crunchy” and dissonant, which I enjoyed — but the people I was attending with just felt it was weird. If I hadn’t sung similar pieces before, there’s no way I would have enjoyed the music as much.
Second: in my city especially, many choral groups love to sing music about peace, but they never acknowledge the source of true peace — Jesus — and that the whole reason we need it in the first place is that our sin has broken it. They only reference peace and the search for it as an inter-human endeavor. So much of choral music is sacred in nature, and I was reminded that much of my own secular choral experience has felt hollow. I don’t mean to be arrogant, but I know where true peace and true meaning come from in life, and it doesn’t matter how much art directors put together themed concerts or gifted composers write avant-garde pieces; without acknowledging our sin and Jesus’s love, all appeals to mercy, justice, kindness, and peace feel very hollow.
(Caveat: I know there are a great many people out there who share my beliefs, and still find joy and fulfillment in programs centered around ambivalently spiritual themes. I have a track record of discounting things that don’t line up to my expectations exactly, so I ask the reader to take my bewailings with a grain of salt. There’s probably much more to glean from secular interpretations of sacred and spiritual themed music than I can see at the moment.)
Third: the keynote piece was one I’d sung as a teenager at choir camp, which led to many flashbacks; the heat and stress of preparing a complicated piece in a few short days of intense effort in July — learning to sing in Hebrew — our director blowing giant rams horns — my own brother singing a long solo just hours before his voice changed. It’s full of lovely, weird, asymmetrical rhythms; strange to ears that hadn’t heard it before (like my friends) but emotional and familiar and different all at once.
Fourth: I had moments of intense pleasure through this concert, which made me wonder if this is why people keep coming back? I’ve definitely had “choral high” as a singer, but never understood why people enjoyed coming to choir concerts. Apparently you can get a bit of that choral high from the audience as well. Who knew?
So there you go: some random musings from my brain while sitting and listening to crunchy music for organ and choir! Perhaps God will be kind to our city, and someday there will be appeals for peace made through song that acknowledge the only source for peace is first being at peace with God Himself.