While researching the singing tradition in my mother’s family for my master’s thesis, I interviewed my great aunt Ada Cunningham in rural Union County, North Carolina. As gaining information on my great-great grandfather, whom she had known, was my initial object, early in the interview I asked if he were a good person. She said, “Uncle John”? I said, “Yes.” She replied, “Oh, all singing folks is good folks.”
Glenn is “singing folks.” As a congregation, we sing very well. I have heard visiting clergy over the years complement our congregational singing. When Timothy lays out on particular stanzas, I love hearing the congregation sing out in strong four-part harmony. Those who don’t read music sing the melody and those who think they can’t sing make a joyful noise all the more strongly: all singing “lustily,” as John Wesley admonishes.
In addition to every Sunday congregational hymns, we have other opportunities to sing. There are the Women’s and Men’s Choruses, open to everyone, the all-volunteer choir for the 8:30 a.m. service, and the “Hallelujah Chorus” on Easter, when this year a record number came up and sang: I estimate nearly 100 over and above those singing in the Chancel Choir. All of these would be welcomed into the Chancel Choir.
The Chancel Choir includes members at all levels of ability. Certainly we have some of the finest soloists in the region, but the many volunteers, ranging from beginner to advanced, comprise the heart of the choir. Anyone willing to help the choir offer music for the worship of God would do well. Certainly anyone who negotiates the Hallelujah Chorus, even if imperfectly, is qualified. If those 100 singers joined the choir, our singing, our theological depth, and our evangelical reach would leap exponentially.
This year, the Atlanta Symphony commemorates the 100th anniversary of Robert Shaw’s birth. We are fortunate to live in the city where he culminated his life’s work. He once described himself as a kind of “vessel.” I would add, “prophet,” for, while his medium was music, theology was the driving character within his music. His work was on the world stage; our arena is more focused, yet nevertheless carries world implications. Shaw is quoted as saying something like this: if the arts are to have the redemptive qualities for which they are intended, they must be practiced in a particular context. Our context is the worship of God within the congregation of Glenn Memorial UMC.
As congregation and choirs, when we sing the true songs of God with heart and mind, we tune our souls with those of our sisters and brothers and the Holy Spirit; and, via our interactions with others without the church, this holy, spiritual consonance resounds so that “our sound is gone out into all the world.” This is clearly seen in our children and youth choirs, as they learn and are bred to the prophetic musical traditions of the church, and presently, tangibly as Wes and our youth choirs carry our singing into Canada on the Youth Choir Tour. Shaw: “when one lovingly and earnestly obeys the laws of great music, there is always the chance that the flesh will be made word and dwell among us."
Augustine said, “the one who sings prays twice.” Aunt Ada understood it too.