I moved to Roswell nearly twenty years ago. I started out teaching Freshmen and Sophomores at dear old Goddard High. One of the veteran teachers, Francis Taylor, told me about how when she was a Freshman teacher they used to require every student to learn the school song. I liked the idea, for tradition’s sake and because I always liked music. So, every year I had a new crop of Freshmen, and I bellowed the song for them “We honor you dear Goddard High…” Eventually they all bellowed it back to me. It was pretty satisfying.
At NMMI I decided I wanted to continue the tradition. NMMI has both a fight song and school song. Part of the ritual for every Friday is I have my high school students sing one of these two songs before we leave for the weekend. They complain about it, but I try to hold steady to it. I have a feeling it may be one of the most important things I have ever given my students, a song to sing, even if I didn’t write it, and it’s not all that gorgeous. It’s a song we sing together, a song that unites us with each other, and with those who have gone before us.
I have learned to love a goodly number of people while singing with them. Singing together, really singing, has a certain effect on the body and the spirit.
In high school we would sometimes sing at camp, and the songs that really affected us were the ones with harmony. There’s something about the way two voices singing two different notes create one sound that offers a thrill unlike any other. Our sum is mysteriously beautiful, gorgeously profound. Two relatively mediocre singers who can harmonize achieve more artistic glory than one great singer alone.
I now realize that’s what I miss about the church music of my childhood. When I was a kid, there was almost no amplification of singing in church. People sang as a group, the choir and the congregation, and it made a difference that everyone was singing. Making that joyful noise TOGETHER made it a weekly miracle, a prayer greater than any other. Now, we don’t do that. I can remember special music, a weekly tradition, when couples, friends, families would prepare harmonized pieces of music, and they would sing so beautifully. It would make me cry. I sang “Farther Along” with my mother in church. Imagine that. This was during my teen years when my mother and I fought nearly every day. Still, when we had to do the special music, we made peace long enough to sing that song. “Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder…”
I don’t mean to imply that every special was great music. Many, many of them were not, but the WERE full of heart, of sincerity.
That’s in short supply. We could always use a little more heart, a little more sincerity. If you can’t sing, dance. Clap your hands. Snap your fingers. Buy a uke. Sing whether anyone else wants to hear it or not. Sing until someone joins you. Make up the words if you don’t know them. If churches no longer want to hear the congregation sing, then they’re excluding the voices of passing angels, and it’s their loss. I’m convinced that even terrible songs sung with a joyful heart can be songs of praise. “Every rose has it’s thorn…” “Boogie on, Reggae woman…” “I’m sexy and I know it.”