Monday, May 01, 2006

Full-body Singing

I filled in for the ward chorister yesterday. She's a friend, and trusted me not to switch the lyrics to "Praise to the Man" to "Scotland the Brave." Maybe she knew we weren't singing "Praise to the Man."

Leading the music is different from singing with the congregation. One major difference is that everybody is singing toward me. The sound is focused toward the podium, which is where the chorister stands. I found myself singing louder than I usually do (and I'm not usually a shy singer). The congregation seemed to sing louder to drown me out. Most of our songs were of the enthusiastic nature, so "loud" worked for everybody.

Leading the music also means I get to pick the tempo. If the organist slows down, I tend to just follow along, but she seemed to like the pace, too. Since the songs were enthusiastic, "fast" worked well with "loud."

Since the congregation is facing me, that also means that I'm facing them. I enjoy watching the congregation sing. I pick out faces and watch how they are responding to the music. Lots of beaming countenances during our loud, fast version of "The Spirit of God."

The best thing about leading the music, though, is that my whole body is singing the song, not just my brain and my voice and my breathing. Leading the music means a lot of flailing, but it's rhythmic flailing, and it connects my self with the music and the message in a way that just singing doesn't. It's really cool to be fully engaged with
"And then, wondrous story, the Lord in his glory, will come in his pow'r in the beautiful day."
I just can't be immersed in a song like that and not be joyous about it.

Later in the day, I had another transcendent experience with full-body singing. I saw Bruce Springsteen at Jazzfest in New Orleans. After all that's happened here, and how hopeless things still seem sometimes, he sang "My City of Ruins," and the audience wept, and raised hands in Hosanna during the chorus,
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!
I'm not much of a fan of popular praise and worship music; I think it's manipulative. I do sometimes wish, though, that there was a way that more people could experience, during a normal sacrament meeting, how profound it can feel to become part of the music. Because not everybody gets to be the chorister, or to pray in unison a song for the healing of your city on a beautiful spring day.


Stephen said...


Beijing said...

"The congregation seemed to sing louder to drown me out."

Garrison Keillor had a Lake Wobegon episode about that. He expressed gratitude that she brought the best out of them.

Logan said...

Did you really get to pick the tempo? I find organists don't generally have any intention of following me much when I lead the music.

Well, until I stop after the first verse and gesture to him or her to pay attention. (Or if the organist is my wife, which is usually how it is. :) )

By the way, I'm excited for you to be full time around here.

Dyslexic Mystic said...

Often when I sing or contemplate hymns, I think of the pioneers and about long long long walks with my family out in nature. When I hike I tend to end up singing to myself or singing with whoever might be with me if the conversation lags. I am quite sure many of our hymns were sung up and down the trail in as many styles and modes of experience that each pioneer brought with them from their own cultures. I imagine it was beautiful in the evenings around the fire singing. As a musician I am always looking for a way to bring music into my life that way and not just canonized hymns, but new personal songs and hymns that burst from us. As sacred as we hold the idea of creation I am surprised we don’t see much more in the way of music and other art. Then again, the realm of the professional artist has long been under the sway of Mammon.

Serenity Valley said...

I have always dreamed of singing "The Spirit of God" at the proper speed. There's nothing worse than sitting, watching the music leader on the stand with a beatific, spacy smile while she (or he) conducts that particular song like a dirge.

Finally, Ann, you're permablogging somewhere. It's about time.

annegb said...

Oh, man, I saw Bruce Springsteen singing some of those songs on Good Morning America and it looked so cool.

I love that kind of music, it has a beat.

I sort of move my whole body to the beat when I lead the music. It's unavoidable. I have rhythm. Can't sing worth a damn, but I have rhythm.