Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Messiah Sing-In

Monday night we went to the annual Tucson Messiah Sing-In which, according to what they said, is the longest running community sing-in in the nation. In the sing-in Handel's Messiah is performed with a small orchestra and four soloists; the audience serves as the chorus. The Tucson Sing-In has about 1200 in the audience/chorus. Some of them have been going all 31 years of the Sing-In's history. I sang the Messiah first in college, then with a small town chorus up in Northern Arizona. When we returned to Tucson I attended the Tucson Sing-In when it was still in its infancy. Once I started home schooling, though, I didn't return until last year.

I love it. All the words are straight out of Scripture, much of it from the Old Testament: Isaiah, Haggai, Psalms, Malachi. It lays out the prophecies of Christ's coming, the promises to the Jews that a Savior would be sent and then it brings in the New Testament verses that confirm it. Ending with the fabulous Hallelujah chorus and then the shiver-producing Worthy is the Lamb (that was slain), it's awesome.

This morning when I woke up it occurred to me that in singing the Messiah, the chorus is like the Body of Christ. First there are four different parts designed for four different types of voices -- soprano, alto, tenor and bass. You need to find the part your voice is ranged to sing and sing with that group. That's where you're going to sound the best.

Once you get in your correct group, you have to sing the part you have been assigned. Of course first you have to know what the part is. Since I've been practicing my part by itself for a month or so, I've found that it wasn't always what I'd thought it was. Sometimes the notes weren't at all intuitive. And it didn't always sound as good or as fun as the soprano part. Still, alto is my part and it has a place in the whole. And the better I learned it the more I came to like it.

As a result of learning your part, when you get to the performance, you will be prepared to sing it. That may not be the case with everyone else who comes. In fact, though I did practice, I didn't do nearly enough to meet the challenges of singing in the big group. For one thing, there were others who didn't practice at all, and some who'd never been to the Sing-In before. They knew the Messiah from listening to it whole, which is a lot different from singing a part. Some people could read the music, while others had just muddled along, trying to guess what they should be singing. That means that when you are singing, those around may not sing because they don't know what they're supposed to sing. Others sing notes of their own choosing, feeling they have to sing something. Still others sing the wrong notes, thinking they are right. And of course some are the old pros who have it down pat and don't have to have a group of other singers to help them along the way.

I saw parallels to living the Christian life in all the above. One of the things that really hit me was how hard it is to sing when you're the only one doing it. You wonder if you have made a mistake and shouldn't be singing, even though you've prepared and are pretty sure you should be. In retrospect I realized that most of the people around me weren't singing because they didn't know what to sing, not because I was singing when I shouldn't be (though sometimes I was...) I learned also that you need to keep your own time and not depend on cues from other parts of the chorus because you might not be able to hear the cue you were listening for. Also, the director doesn't always tell you when to come in, so that's not something you can rely on either.

Sometimes I wasn't surrounded by silence. Sometimes the people around me, or a particular voice in my periphery would be sounding heartily -- just not the same notes I was singing. When that happened, I always felt a pull to match with it, even if I thought the notes I was singing were right. Sometimes my notes were right and sometimes they weren't. But even when I was certain I was on track, it was still hard to hold my own.

The solution to all of this? More practice. You really have to know what you are supposed to be singing, and you have to have it down. You have to be confident in what you've learned and practiced. In the confusion of the whole chorus, with people who are at all positions on the scale of knowledge and expertise, you can't afford to rely on others too much. And you have to be ready to sing out what you know to be right even if no one around you is singing with you. Though if you're lucky the voices of the old hands down in the front rows may come drifting back to comfort you and encourage you to stay the course...

Just like learning and applying doctrine in the spiritual life.