My mother, who graduated from high school, could read music and sing the alto part on her own. I’m basically an alto, too, but even though I learned to play the violin, which required reading music, I usually haven’t been able to know what key my voice might land on when I start to sing, and I definitely can only sing the part when next to a good, confident alto. Even with the soprano part, if two notes are far apart on the sheet music, I’m never sure I will hit the second one right.
Mom complained frequently that I was playing the violin out of tune, and my dad scolded me for singing too timidly when at church. So even though I had a good experience in seventh grade chorus, I definitely had no confidence as a musician or singer. I quit the violin after eighth grade since my double joints wouldn’t let me play vibrato.
I liked to sing, though. We did sing songs in the car as a family, like “A Bicycle Built for Two,” “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” and “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” and I loved the Christmas carols we sang in the auditorium at my elementary school in Wheaton, Illinois.
The matter became serious when we had our first child. My husband bought a guitar and began practicing songs, especially, “Here Comes the Sun.” I bought the music and lyrics for Beatles’ songs. (Now where did I put those?) I also got the music for the Doxology and discovered I’d been singing one or two notes wrong all these years.
I sang lullabies to both sons, and Beatles’ songs, and sang Christmas carols with them (now carols were no longer allowed in the schools). I learned from Mr. Harleston, a vocal instructor at the college where I worked, that I could sing soprano better if I used my nose more instead of my throat. This was handy when encouraging my sons to sing hymns in church before their voices changed.
One day our church's choir director, Mr. William Mathis, asked if I would consider joining the choir as a soprano. I didn’t do it, but the very fact that he would ask made an impression on me. So when our little church got a new choir director with the hope of improving our services and he asked for more members to join the choir, I considered it. As soon as I retired, I did it. I started out timid, but soon, unless my voice was not so good that day, I tried to sing heartily since we are such a small choir.
When my first grandchild was born and a bit colicky, I was back to singing lullabies again, and “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain,” and many more songs since, including “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
Then at my church, we had morning prayer, with no choir director or musician present, and I ventured to lead the few church members present by singing acapella. I did it with no embarrassing wrong notes! Now our musician has been out sick, and last Sunday I was the only one who knew how to start off one of the hymns (“Lead on, oh King, eternal”). I did it again!
I love singing traditional hymns with our choir, both from the Episcopal hymnal and from the African American Heritage hymnal. It seems to exercise my heart and clear out my emotions.
Isn’t it amazing that through a life’s journey of sixty to seventy years, an insecure singer can become confident enough to sing out loud?
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