Music has always been a mystery to me. I enjoy it, but I don't really get it. Never have.
Part of the reason is that I never got the hang of reading music. I'd look at it and generally got the up and down bit, but how much up and how much down always threw me. Being somewhat dyslexic in that I have great difficulty reading multiple lines, just looking at music made my brain crazy. Words and notes together seemed impossible.
When I was a teen, I learned how to play the guitar, well enough to participate in the music at our church - playing and singing. But that was easy stuff. You played a chord and that's generally what you were supposed to sing as well - and the chord either had a little picture of what your fingers were doing on the strings or just the alphabetical notation. None of this staff, clef, bars, rests stuff. Mysterious, those things.
I stopped playing somewhere in my 20s. I was married, had a job, lived far from home and didn't have a church anymore. The music left me (as did a lot of other parts of my life) and after a while, I didn't miss it anymore.
Years later, I found myself home again and music began creeping back into my life. I dated a man whose favorite form of entertainment was sitting in the dark listening to music. Then I married a man who had spent the greater part of his young adult life playing in a band, singing and writing music. My guitar found a new life in his hands and he made it sing beautifully.
I started singing too. Mostly under my breath, in the car, sometimes in the shower. It started being a real part of my life when my son was born. Lullabies. Songs in the car. Theme songs for PBS kids' shows. And finally, as he got older, songs on the radio.
Now that he's a teen, he embarrasses so easily... new opportunities for musical me! I sing to him in the car. I sing to wake him up in the morning. I sing to him when we're standing in line at the drug store or at the grocery store. His blush and furious hissing at me to be quiet are very entertaining.
We probably could have continued in this way for years but for an announcement made in church mid-July. Our young choir director wanted to hold a workshop for anyone who wanted to come on Wednesday nights during the month of August and learn about music. How to read it, what the symbols mean, why certain hymns are chosen. HOW TO READ MUSIC???? My interest was piqued - could there be someone who could actually make sense of that mess to me?
I decided to go. I was a little nervous and thought maybe I'd gotten in over my head - but Paul the choir director was doing something new too - he'd never taught people to read music or sing. He'd always worked with people who already knew that stuff and were just refining what they already knew. He made it interesting and fun - and I learned a lot.
We started with basics.
We learned what these notes sounded like and the distance between them. Making the hand signals kind of cemented that knowledge into our heads as we sang the notes. We did breathing exercises and made strange noises.
The choir actually had August off, but the paid singers came and sat in class with us. It was very helpful to have someone who knew what she was doing next to me. I could see the notes and hear what she did with them. Then I could do it too! Paul would play and sing to demonstrate what he was telling us and for some reason, after all these years - it clicked.
After we'd been at it for a couple of weeks, Paul sprung a surprise on us - we would sing the Offeratory and Communion hymns at the end of the workshop. Two songs. Words and reading music and SINGING. I confess, I panicked a little. It's one thing to sit in a room full of people all singing together. It's quite another to do it in front of a whole bunch of people who are listening to you do it.
Yes, it was optional. But I'd signed on to do this and it would prove something to myself if I swallowed my fear and did it anyway.
It occurred to me that it might not be all that different from lectoring. For a long time now, I've done lots of voiceover work in a little room with just me and a microphone. How hard could being a lector be? The first time I got up in front of all those people, my voice shook but not as hard as my legs. I got through it and the next time was easier, and the time after that until now, I don't even think about it - I just go up there and do it. This singing thing... surely it would work the same way - and I wouldn't be alone up there. If worst came to worst, the wonderful alto that sang next to me could drown me out.
Today was the day. I went to the rehearsal before church and things sounded great. I was also teaching Children's Church today, so I had to sneak into the choir section after that. Luckily, there's a little side door next to those pews so I wouldn't have to walk through the congregation to take my place. I pulled the door open... and it stuck open at about a foot. I squished my way through the door in possibly the most undignified way ever... and Paul set up a chair for me at the end of the very full pews. I placed my purse behind the back pew and when it was time to sing after the Peace, I moved into my place with the altos.
We sang "True Light" which is a very jaunty sort of gospel song and I kind of got lost in it. Not the bad kind of lost - I sang the notes and followed the music and didn't actually get lost at all. By lost, I mean I kind of forgot where I was and who was watching - I was enjoying the music. I have no idea how what came out of my mouth sounded, but I had fun!
Flushed with joy and relief that I didn't completely embarrass myself, I sat down for the next portion of the service. And then my phone went off. Under the back pew and completely out of reach. There was nothing I could do about it. Luckily, it sounded like a squirrel had gotten into the sanctuary somehow and was chattering away about it. And it's not very loud. At least it's not the Tarzan yell, like my husband's ringtone. Still, there was a mildly alarmed look on the soprano's face until I whispered that it was my phone making that noise.
At the communion, we sang "Day by Day". Not the Godspell version, but a beautiful, contemplative version that is one of my favorites. And those were our two songs! The rest was stuff we'd be singing if I were sitting in the congregation anyway - but now I actually knew how to sing it instead of having to guess.
Afterwards, I was asked if I was going to join the choir. I hadn't really planned to.... I do lots of other things during the service that might preclude that - but maybe on weeks when I could do both? I'll have to think about it. In the meantime, I might want to go sit in on choir practice next Wednesday.