Thank You, Songs I Cannot Sing

I am grateful to you, Songs I Cannot Sing, Songs I Cannot Play, Songs I Cannot Lead.

First, that the world of music (which I love) is not limited only to what I can do.  What a sad-sounding world that would be.  I am glad you exist, that there are arias and cantatas I can only listen to with tears running down my face.

Second, and this has been the harder part, that I have been required over and over the past few years to sing anyway, play anyway, lead anyway.  That the Songs I Cannot have been the Songs I Still Have To Anyway.

“They sound so good,” I said to our choir’s accompanist this evening, a little sadly.

“So do we,” she said staunchly.

“I know,” and our tiny, scrabbled together choir hadn’t sounded too bad — though we had only one teenage tenor and our bass . . . well, our bass is my dear Fritz and I am simply glad he is willing to learn new things.

All five or six of our spirit-is-willing choir had dispersed after practicing the simple harmonies in the hymnbook to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”  and now the pianist and I could hear from elsewhere in the building the soaring beauty of the other congregation’s choir practice.  It was beautiful.  Like angels singing.

O hark!

We share our building among three wards — one congregation that takes in everyone who lives in the town south of us and two congregations in our town.  We are the south and east sides of town, the other ward is the north and west sides. Unfortunately, the luck of the map has drawn what seems an unfair amount of phenomenal musical talent to the other congregation — while we have had to make do with a children’s pianist who had to learn how to play on the job and even now blanks out and stops playing when she gets nervous (uh, that would be me) and a choir leader who can’t quite sing the harmony line even when that’s all the accompanist is playing and often gets lost in the middle of the beat (uh, that would also be me).

I am willing, but not entirely able.

But I love music.  I love singing.  I come from a family of fine singers and good musicians. Pianists, organists, choir directors, soloists.  It has been such a shame to me to know how badly I am mangling a fine piece of music, but not to know how to get myself to do it any different.

Two or three weeks ago, our children performed their annual program for their parents in our main worship meeting.  That wasn’t too bad, I was telling myself, I don’t think the mistakes were all that obvious, while I played the postlude quietly waiting for the congregation to finish filing out so I could make my escape.  And a little redhead from the 7-8 year old class bounced up by my elbow, “Why did you mess up?  Did you know you had messed up?  But why did you?”

There are things I can do better than most people I know.  I could, I guess, have spent my life only doing those things I excel at.

But I am grateful to you, Songs I Cannot, for teaching me about trying and being willing to try, about failing and being willing to fail, about learning to laugh with tears in my eyes.

Our teenage tenor asked today at practice, “Where am I supposed to sing from?”

I described the vibrating column of air in a pipe organ, how when we sing we become that column of air — and having thus exhausted my musical knowledge, said, “I sing from the place I pray from — whole body like that, all open.”

And he nodded and the choir all together sang with something more beautiful than the notes that actually made it out of our mouths.

Perhaps not an unfitting way to praise a Creator who entered his own creation not as a prince in satin or a great scholar or a powerful temple singer, but to almost all appearances as a wandering carpenter’s son.

Third, that living with you, working with you, returning to you week after week, you Impossible Songs, keeps teaching me how Jesus, listening, can hear the Songs I Cannot Sing, how even my mistakes can become something harmonious in Him.

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4 thoughts on “Thank You, Songs I Cannot Sing

  1. Yes, yes. I echo this. I chorus your words (though not so eloquently). I am a fumbling musician that the church keeps using again and again and it is a most humbling experience. Have you ever had to have the chorister stop the song in the middle and say, “Let’s start that one again”? It’s really embarrassing.

    But like you The Songs I Can Not Sing (I got a tenor voice that can not hear notes other than the melody and it is so darn awkward in young women’s and relief society, but I love to sing anyway) pop into my head as random moments of inspiration. If I’d been a natural and never practiced those words might not be seared in my memory.

  2. I really LIKE these, MJ! What a great way to start a Monday, my heart brim full and overflowing with love for my sister and tears streaming down my cheeks at these perfect expressions of gratitude. Thank you!

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