There’s a backstory. All the years I was in elementary, junior and high school, I had to go to physical therapy in the afternoons, working to keep an extraordinarily fragile and improbable left hip strong and functional. There were a lot of things I didn’t get to do. Of the things I missed out on, a big one was the kind of extracurricular activities that round out and give depth to people’s lives. What I am most aware of all these years later, is having lost out on taking piano lessons. Without any formal musical formation, I considered I lost out on something important. At the same time, I am also aware that I did not take up plenty of opportunities I have had as an adult to close that gap so I can’t feel too sorry for myself.
Fast forward to now. The heart and anchor of Ascension’s ministries is its music. Our organist/choir director has called out truly superb skills in the community and the music is consistently excellent. Andrew, our Rector, is deeply musically gifted as well. He composes music; he plays the guitar well enough to have considered being a concert guitarist. He’s got a great voice. I sit next to him on Sundays and often stop my own singing to listen to him move effortlessly from singing the melody to going into all kinds of harmonies that are lovely.
Planning for Eastertide, Becky and Andy considered having the celebrant at the 10:15 Eucharist chant the Sursum Corda (the beginning of the Eucharist Prayer that starts with “The Lord be with you), the Easter preface for the Sanctus and Benedictus, and the concluding doxology. That means singing solo, a capella. It’s all on the celebrant.
Andy asked if I’d be OK with that; I gulped and said, “sure!” And immediately wondered what the heck I was thinking to say that! Except that: my liturgics professor at Sewanee, Marion Hatchett, who was a colorful character and a recognized liturgical authority in the church, had insisted over and over again, that anyone could chant and chanting must not be reserved for only those with really good voices. Somewhere along the line, I read, learned and inwardly digested that point of view. So, really, there was no question: I’d do it when it was my turn. That would be on the last Sunday in April–in other words, yesterday.
I practiced. And practiced. And practiced. And practiced one more time. A couple of days last week, I started getting hoarse and had to stop. At red lights, I practiced. Ironing, I practiced. In the shower, I practiced (sounded real good there!). Yesterday morning, I drove to church practicing all the way. When I actually got to church, I found I kept getting these adrenaline rushes where my heart would start to pound and my hands would get cold and clammy. I tried not to sing anything during the liturgy of the word in case I wore out my vocal chords (?!). Then, we sat up around the altar, listening to the Offertory Anthem and I decided I wasn’t going to do it, couldn’t do it. I would mess up, I wouldn’t be able to find the right pitch, I’d make a fool of myself and let down my church. I practiced breathing and tried unsuccessfully to find “my happy place” (not sure it exists). I wondered if the Holy Spirit might be so kind as to work a miracle.
And then, it was time. I guess that competitive streak of mine that says I can do what other people can do, or Marion’s voice, or plain old determination, propelled me forward and off I went with the chant. I hit most of the notes correctly and my voice was not as reedy and wobbly and thin as I had feared. My Madonna microphone helped too.
I’ll do it again this coming week and at least one more time before Pentecost. It’s part of my job. And in a small, relatively unimportant way, I did something that was very, very hard for me. There’s research going around these days that suggests that the best way to keep our minds sharp as we age is to take on tough challenges that push us significantly beyond our comfort zone. For just that reason alone, I’m glad I did this. But there’s something even more fundamental. We do hard things because we should—but even more, we do them because we can.