When you have not sung with a church choir in a while, and you’re but a marginally decent singer to start, it’s a tough test to jump back in and play the role of a second tenor.
Singing the high notes of the first tenor would require a full falsetto, and while that range of voice sounds good in your own head, it can be torture to others, especially those educated in vocal music.
So it is best to find your range and stay there. Fit in. Let the better singers be your guide like the best cyclists in a peloton.
No low solos
One has to be careful as the newbie in a small church choir. If you show up on the first rehearsal and there are not enough people to fill out your section, you can wind up having to hold your own without much support.
Or even solo. Yes, that can happen. Then the choir director calls on you to sing your part alone, in front of however many accomplished singers sit or stand in attendance and you might be forced to reply, “Solo? I think not.”
The choir director usually laughs and lets you off the hook. Everyone knows how painful a solo can be. That’s true with both vocals and instrumentals. It is never fun to be put on the spot.
Even real talent faces challenges
Of course some people are born to the spotlight, and blessed with musical talent that lets then shirk off any fear.
But even the greatly talented can get stage fright. Onetime Beatle Paul McCartney is said to have it. Cellist Pablo Casals too. Singer Carly Simon literally could not perform for years thanks to her anxiety over performing in front of people. How ironic is all that? Even great performers are not shielded from human fears.
Wrapped in the arms of a choir. Or not.
The little church choir moves on and about its business, wrapping you in generally forgiving arms.
It is only the truly horrid singers that get kicked out. Perhaps you’ve seen the episode of Mayberry R.F.D. where Deputy Sherriff Barney Fife dearly wants to sing in the choir but is so out of tune the choir takes to rehearsing anywhere but where he can find them. But he always stumbles on their rehearsals.
When you have sung in choirs from grade school through middle school and long into adulthood, it is not hard to recognize the social strata of the choir. Everyone knows the best singers because they can hear them. The director and leaders within the choir must quietly coach the weaker singers by emphasizing phrasing and the proper notes during rehearsals. Ultimately each quavering voice gets coaxed into place. It is like arranging the china, notes on a page, voices in a choir.
The reasons to sing
There are moments in singing with a good choir when the force of the music absolutely sweeps you away. It compares in many respects to the rush you get when succeeding in athletics. A choral piece with all its crescendos and tonality mimics the charge you get playing basketball, or running well in a race. It’s that moving.
It can nearly be that exhausting too. To sing well takes training. The vocal chords and lungs must adapt to the rigors of controlling the voice. As a distance runner I have completed marathons and run a 31:00 10k, and still the fatigue in completing a contata can leave you reedy and breathless.
Not exactly Gospel music
Not everything about a choir is so serious, at least intentionally. One year the conservative little whitebread church to which my wife and I once belonged hosted a gospel leader who taught 60 choir members including guest singers from throughout the community to sing Gospel music. It was almost comic for a while, getting conservative Lutherans to sing Gospel music. And when the group actually performed, the leader could not even get the group to sway in time. God, that was painful to witness.
But we weren't the only ones struggling. The jazz pianist hired to come in and help with rehearsals had a helluva time. He could not pound those keys the way the Gospel leader did. He'd plink away with delicacy and nuance and the leader would jump in at some point and pound the piano back into place to get the temp and rhythm right.
Ultimately the talented jazz pianist was paid to leave as the exasperated Gospel leader took back both roles, playing piano with one hand and directing the choir with the other. Most of us were stunned at the degree of musical talent and frankly, the determination he showed to get us to learn, respect and celebrate the music.
In the end it must be supposed we all learned a lot. Mostly that God is a forgiving God, for what he heard was passable, but hardly the triumphant glory we had all hoped would transpire.
It just goes to show that even "preaching to the choir" is not always the easiest thing to do.
Of course that applies to many things in life.