by Connie Vandeman Jeffery—
Now that I can’t, I want to sing in a church choir. I used to love being in a choir. From singing alto in academy choirs, to being one of eight University Singers at La Sierra back in the ’70s, to traveling all over Scandinavia with the Newbold College Men’s Chorus in the spring of 1977, I loved everything about being part of the group singing experience.
I didn’t actually sing in the Men’s Chorus. Two other girls and I made up the women’s trio that sang several special numbers interspersed in the choral program, and we joined the men at the close of each concert. It was quite an experience. We stayed with Adventist families at every church, sanitarium, or school campus where we sang—all over Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland. The girls always stayed together in the same home. The men were shuffled to different homes or dorms, or they slept on the floor of auditoriums. What did I love about that trip? The scenery, the fjords, the food, the gracious people, and the singing! I loved the harmony and synergy we had as a trio. Our signature piece was in Latin—Laudate Dominum by Mozart.
It was the ultimate choir experience for me. And I haven’t been part of a choir since then.
Some churches where I have been a member didn’t have a choir. Some did. Last Christmas, I joined the Camarillo church choir in singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” at the close of the service. The choir director invited members to come to the front and join the choir for the classic, inspiring conclusion of the Messiah. It felt awesome to be part of a real choir again. But mostly, I sit in the pew, holding the church hymnal in my hand or looking at the words of praise songs on the screen and singing my heart out with the rest of the congregation.
And right now, singing together is not only discouraged, it’s downright dangerous. According to Dr. James Hamblin, “A general rule for minimizing the spread of any respiratory virus: Silence is safer than whispering. Whispering is safer than talking. Talking is safer than singing.”
Even when churches are allowed to re-open, there will be guidelines to follow regarding singing—no shared hymnals, no choirs, no congregational singing. And I totally understand the wisdom and science of it. It just makes me sad. Not that I belonged to a choir before the pandemic. But I’d like to have that option once again.
So, I sing alone. With my guitar, in my house, strumming and humming. Or I sit at the piano and play hymns or classical pieces from 50-year-old piano books. I am so rusty on the piano, but the past few months of practice is helping. The melodies are beautiful, and I feel a sense of peace when my house is filled with music.
In the midst of my musical ponderings, my friend Lonnie sent me a snippet from his devotional reading. He often does that—sends me notes of encouragement and shares what he reads in the mornings. This one came by email last week and struck a chord with me. Henry Ward Beecher, the great Congregationalist minister and social reformer of the 1800s, wrote this in A Song of the Heart:
We can sing away our cares easier than we can reason them away. The birds are the earliest to sing in the morning; the birds are more without care than anything else I know of. Sing in the evening. Singing is the last thing that robins do…. O, that we might sing every evening and morning, and let song touch song all the way through! O, that we would put song under our burden! Then sad things would not poison so much. When troubles come, go at them with song. When griefs arise, sing them down. Lift the voice of praise against cares. Praise God by singing; that will lift you above trials of every sort. Attempt it. They sing in heaven; and among God’s people on earth, song is the appropriate language of Christian feeling.
What a concept! Even when we cannot sing together, we can sing alone—morning, noon, and night. We can lift our own individual voices of praise against cares and worries. We can carry a song in our heart. I cannot reason away these times in which we live. But I can sing. I may join a Zoom choir or wait until I can join an in-person choir when it is safe to do so, but until then, I’ll continue to lift my voice alone, and with the birds, in thanksgiving for my gracious Savior and the gift of music He gave to me.
Laudate Dominum—Praise the Lord!
Connie Vandeman Jeffery is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference, and has had a long career in media.