When in Our Music God is Glorified
Music has been at the center of my work and joy for most of my life. The early years of my life in music were focused on the school band. I was an unspectacular saxophone player from the 7th grade through my sophomore year. During my sophomore year, I auditioned for the all-school musical, and the music director, who was also the choral director at my high school, said something that changed my life and future. After I sang an audition solo for him, he said, “Ray, I would love to have you in the choir.” You can bet that I was the first to sign up to audition for the select choir for my junior year! That was a lesson to me, and over my years of leading choirs and teaching choral music I have repeated that statement hundreds of times and recruited many singers.
I will never forget that junior year and my first day in the select choir. This was a large, select mixed choir called “Appolyras” a combination of Apollo and lyre. As I remember, there were about seventy members. The choir had two traditional songs that we sang at the end of every concert and the director asked all returning choir members to the front of the choir room to sing these two songs for the new members. There were about forty returning members. I can still hear the beautiful blend of voices and harmony and the strength of this group of singers. I remember thinking, “this is the voice of God!” This love of choral music lead eventually to three degrees in music and over thirty years of music teaching and learning.
One thing I have learned over the years is that choral music is about more than great voices and technically accurate singing. The mental space of each singer is also important. If some singers are focused on communicating the message of the music and some are not, it impacts the quality of the sound. Put another way, it matters what we think as we sing. If some members of the choir are thinking about what they want for lunch, or an errand they need to run after the concert, that lack of focus will come through the musical performance. Conversely, if all the members of the choir are focused on communicating a message through our artistic expression, the sound and feeling tone of the music will be strong and engaging and at its best, transcendental.
One of my jobs as a choral director is to call all the singers to an awareness of the message we want to convey through the music. I couch this as working to interpret the lyrics of a choral piece, but I am also trying to focus singers on the overall message. This is such an ineffable, but important, aspect of choral performances.
This idea makes me think of our worship at FUMC Bentonville as we continue to worship via FaceBook live. Although we are separate in location, when we come together in worship in one accord, I believe the spirit of Christ is with us and is animating our worship. The reason, just as in the choral music ensemble, is that we intentionally focus our collective thoughts. Our human intention focused on worship brings us into consort as a church. The fact that we are in various locations has no bearing on the work of the Holy Spirit. The separation by space and time, while difficult for us, is no deterrent to the spirit of a living Christ. The scripture this brings to mind is from the book of Matthew 18:20 (NRSV).
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Perhaps more to the point is this quote from the Nag Hamadi collection of books discovered in 1945. This saying is from the Book of Thomas.
The Kingdom of God is inside you and all around you
Not in a mansion of wood and stone
Split a piece of wood and I am there
Lift a stone and you will find me.
While this scripture is not from the canon of scriptures, I believe it is an important lesson for us today. The Kingdom of Heaven is not in the brick and mortar of our church building. Christ is with us always, in our daily lives and work.
I know we miss gathering in person for worship. I grieve for that as well. But I have faith that God is with us. The work and worship continue! As our children sang during our 2020 virtual vacation bible school, “We are the church, and even though we are apart, we are the church within our hearts!”
Grace & Peace,
- Ray Wheeler, Ph.D.