One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is listening to choral music broadcast on our local NPR station—sacred music, mostly. I also love singing that music myself, joining my voice with others. This fall I sang in two choirs. One was the Fairbanks Peace Choir, a small but dedicated mix of a few seasoned singers and many who had never sung in a choir before. The director managed to pull us together, making us sound better than any of us would alone. The other choir is the Symphony Chorus. A few weeks ago we sang a holiday concert with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra. I stood behind the trombone section and watched the conductor as he brought in the various parts. It felt like I was inside the music as I sang my alto part, aware of the voices around me and the instruments in front of me.
A few days ago I heard a recording of that concert on the radio, and it sounded so different from the outside. It sounded good, with all the voices blending into a unified sound.
In worship yesterday it came to me that Quaker worship is something like a choir, in that we are communicating in ways that go beyond language. In worship as in singing I am aware of those around me. When the meeting is gathered, or covered, our hearts and minds are brought into a mysterious union. Also, preparation and practice are important both in choral music and worship. Here’s where the analogy breaks down: In music we rehearse each part so that in performance we draw on that practice to make the music come alive for the audience. In worship we prepare for whatever message might arise. Rather than performing a practiced piece, vocal ministry comes fresh from the prepared heart.
I was not led to speak this message out of the silence yesterday, but when I closed meeting, I said, “We are a glorious choir!” I wonder if anyone knew what I meant.