My children and I attend an annual singing school in muggy June at a wooded campground in Alabama. We’re familiar with terms like solfège; can follow our line in four part harmony; and know whether to seat ourselves among the sopranos, altos, tenors, or basses. (I’m an alto.)
My parents provided the entertainment when we visited friends as a child. My mother, a voice major, accompanied my daddy, who played guitar and once had a recording contract. Musically, I stayed in their shadow and never trusted my voice, although I’m sure I provided much entertainment the year I spent in the garage belting out the Olivia Newton John songbook through my daddy’s mic and speakers.
I sang soprano in junior high choir and honestly, I’d have an easier time now if I could relax my throat and hit those notes, which are easier to locate than my often-elusive alto part. I used to believe no amount of singing schools could teach me anything, but I realized this year that’s not true. Yes, old dogs can learn new tricks.
Recently a minister from Florida visited our church with his family. His mother, who is deaf from birth, brought local friends: a couple in which the wife is deaf and the husband can both hear and speak sign language.
We placed a chair for him in the front-right side of the sanctuary, facing the pew where his wife and the minister’s mother looked to him as interpreter. Although I’d been curious to watch him sign the sermon to them, once we reached that part of the service I was too busy listening to notice.
It was what happened during the song service that mesmerized me.
I’ve heard it explained that God is the audience, watching as we worship Him during the service. Admittedly, how actively I participate varies and may be influenced by how well I sleep, how I feel, or if I’m distracted.
At church we sing a cappella for 30 minutes before the preaching service begins. I’ve always admired those more concerned with glorifying God than over-analyzing their ability to sing; maybe one day I’ll fall into that category.
Lately I’ve had some trouble with my ears. If it happens at church, it affects how I worship, especially during the song service. When I can’t hear myself I sing low, almost lip-syncing, more concerned with the quality of the sound I make than the act of worshipping God with my voice.
Funny, sometimes I think it’s about me.
The term Sacred Harp refers both to singings in four-part harmony and as a metaphor for the human voice, the instrument God gave us. What I witnessed that day as two deaf women actively participated in the song service forever changed my definition.
They didn’t just read lyrics from the signs their interpreter gave, they responded. Faces beaming, they signed—no, they sang with their hands—with joy. Although inaudible, they glorified God in song. It was one of the most powerful services I’ve ever experienced.
Sometimes we forget to focus more on what we can give in the service than what we receive.