Community singing groups can be demanding and fickle.
So it happened that about two years ago Mr. Garner and I took an unplanned, but well-timed break from the local choral scene. With no voice lessons or concerts to prepare for, life was a little odd, but after a withdrawal period, I realized how liberating it was to have Monday nights free! The marathon concert weekends were soon replaced with Crew Regattas with our son, and rehearsals were replaced with American Heritage Girl meetings with our daughter. More fun, less stress! We found that we did not miss the egos, the competitiveness, or the utter thanklessness of it all.
But, the work of reading, learning, preparing – surrounding myself – with beautifully composed choral music – that I deeply missed.
And then, the act of singing is just so healthy! All of the deep breathing moves oxygen through the brain and lungs. The work of singing is aerobic and produces endorphins that lift the spirit, strengthen the immune system! I could feel the difference in myself without the singing.
God wants us to sing. There are 500 references to singing in the Bible, calling us to sing and praise Him. Paul in his letter to Ephesus emphasizes the need for Christians to sing and praise God, as an alternative to the typical coarse pagan celebrations of the society around us.
“Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It should be easy. We have so much to be thankful for!
And in turn, Almighty God sings over us! Awe-inspiring isn’t it? Zephaniah’s short but powerful and heart-rending book of prophesy calls out Judah and Jerusalem, as well as the surrounding nations of Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Cush and Assyria over their horrific sins, and in Holiness warns them of the utter destruction that they deserve, and then in an abrupt turn of mercy and grace tenderly confides:
“Do not fear, Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
And who can forget the beautiful images that spring from the fertile pen of C. S. Lewis?
“The Lion was pacing to and from about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang, the valley grew green with grass… [Polly] was beginning to see the connection between the music and the things that were happening. When a line of dark firs sprang up on a ridge about a hundred yards away she felt that they were connected with a series of deep, prolonged notes which the Lion had sung a second before. And when he burst into a rapid series of lighter notes she was not surprised to see primroses suddenly appearing in every direction.”
Chapter 9 The Founding of Narnia, The Magicians Nephew.
Singing is a joyous art. Singing to the glory of God, well, there’s nothing that makes my soul soar higher.
In September, an opportunity arose to participate in an Advent performance of Antonin Dvorak’s Mass in D at a local Presbyterian church. Dvorak’s Mass in D is a lush, romantic treatment of the mass text. A stunning work, and one that I had never sung.
Listen to the Kyrie:
How could I resist?! The director required only a limited commitment, 45 minutes on Wednesday nights, and two services on the Sunday morning of the presentation! Perfect! The homeschool mom in me was already thinking how I could tie this in with Composer Study and Music Appreciation.
Singing a demanding choral work again was joyous, so joyous and intellectually fulfilling! The performance went well, and GraceNotes, who had been listening to various Dvorak pieces for Composer Study genuinely enjoyed it. Plus – she was able to identify several of her Latin vocabulary words too! (Laudamus Te, Adoramus Te, Glorificamus Te! (We praise You, We adore You, We glorify You!)
In January, I found that another group, the Symphonicity Chorus was preparing Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. Years ago, I sang his choral setting of the Magnificat text. I have a recording of the Los Angeles Master Choral performing both of these works. The Lux Aeterna is a stunning, ethereal work that never fails to provide correct spiritual perspective and I have always, always wanted to sing it! So I signed up and joined a hundred or so sleepy singers at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings for 8 weeks of rehearsals.
Morten Lauridsen says this about the work:
Each of the five connected movements in this choral cycle contains references to ‘Light,’ assembled from various sacred Latin texts. I composed Lux Aeterna in response to my mother’s final illness and found great personal comfort and solace in setting to music these timeless and wondrous words about Light, a universal symbol of illumination at all levels – spiritual, artistic and intellectual.
What can I say? The performance was this past Sunday. Singing the Lauridsen was a rich experience, with a fabulous symphony and a massive chorus surrounding me with chords that shimmer and reflect and brighten, beautifully expressing the Latin text. Mr. Garner and GraceNotes attended, and even though I forgot to give them the Latin version to compare to the English translation in the program, they were able to follow and pick out quite a few Latin words!
Listen to the first movement:
God sent his Singers upon earth
With songs of sadness and of mirth,
That they might touch the hearts of men,
And bring them back to heaven again.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow