Berhhardt column: Lessons from the choir loft

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 16, 2011

I have spent much of my life singing in choirs, and I donít think it was by accident. I like to think itís where God wants me to be.
He gave me a love for good music, and I feel a sense of belonging when Iím in a choir.
Most of us struggle to find a place to fit in, even in church. But it seemed I was destined for the choir at an early age.
Not that I had much choice in my younger years. My mom was the adult choir director at our church, and she was quite determined that as long as our lungs had breath, the Bernhardt kids were going to sing too. Most of the other neighborhood moms also felt that way, so our choir was rather large.
I started out in the Singing Juniors when I was a lad of but six. Mary Ellen McCombs was the director in those days, and I can remember our choir belting out tunes like ěBe Thou My Visionî and ěLonesome Valleyî to the delight of our congregation. We were energetic, and our spirit was contagious.
What was even more unusual was we did it in two part harmony, a feat almost unheard of in childrenís choirs today.
I canít explain why you donít hear kids singing in harmony much anymore. I suppose itís because we were raised on rich harmonies, thanks to popular groups of the day like Peter Paul and Mary, The Four Lads, and other masters of the softer sounds. Todayís children are raised on a diet of single artists.
Families in my day sang in harmony too. My cousins, the Ludwigs, could put the Lennon Sisters to shame.
Most children lose their vocal confidence once they hit their teen years. They tend to sing timidly and haltingly, almost as though theyíre afraid someone will actually hear them.
My youth choir director, Barbara Smith, would have none of that. A local piano teacher by day, she possessed an almost firey enthusiasm that demanded our best.
ěIf you make a mistake, make it loud!î was her battle cry. There were to be no wilting flowers in her garden.
Wednesday night was sacred at our house. That was choir practice night. Blood would have to flow from at least two appendages before we were allowed to miss it.
I fought it from time to time because there was some pretty good TV on Wednesday nights. Come to think of it, I never saw an episode of “Lost in Space” until summer reruns because of my mid-week obligation.
And the Wednesday night edition of “Batman”? Forget it. I just caught up during the Thursday night conclusion episode.
I suppose Iím thinking about choirs at bit these days for a couple of reasons. Iíve just realized that Iím beginning my 50th year of singing in a choir. On most Sundays, I robe up and head to the loft with the rest of the faithful at Milford Hills UMC, and I still enjoy it.
But Iíve also been thinking about what choirs teach us besides music. They teach us about unity. And boy, couldnít we all stand a lesson in that these days.
In choirs, just like on a sports team, we each bring our individual talent to the roster. We learn to blend together and support each other, each voice doing its part.
When we do well, we might actually hear applause, or even a good loud “Amen” from someone we touched. And when we crash and burn, we all go down together.
No matter. Weíll take another swing at it next Sunday. One for all and all for one.
Choirs also teach us that having the perfect voice isn’t whatís important. In fact, church choirs should never be perfect. The dents and dings in our voices are part of God’s reminder that we come to Him just as we are. A little off-key at times, but still loved.
So if youíre looking for a place to fit in, give your local church choir a try. I bet youíll fit in more than you think you will.
And donít worry. Thanks to the miracle of the DVR, your Wednesday night television will be waiting when you get home.
Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.