Before Christmas, I was super-excited to take part in the second annual Qingdao Carolers group as an Alto singer. Last year’s was a good stretching time that I enjoyed. It has always been hard for me to sing parts other than the melody, though I switched from Soprano (melody) to Alto (harmony) in the Messiah choruses years ago since I just can’t sing that high. Once I found an Alto-enhanced CD to practice along with for months leading up to the Dec. 23 sing-along, I could show up on the night of the concert with my score, sit with the other altos in the audience, and sing my heart out! Basically, since I can’t read music except for a general “up/down” gist, I have to memorize the “melody” that my harmony part is singing, even though it doesn’t flow in the musically-logical ways your mind can anticipate like a typical melody. (The one part of music I CAN read pretty well is the tempo part – more on that later.) Last year I had two things going for me. I put in a lot of effort learning my alto “melodies” both during and after rehearsals, and I was sandwiched between two strong altos (who also happen to be our school’s elementary art and elementary band teachers – awesome ladies!) HEARING the alto part sung strongly around me let me stay where I needed to be, and I was able to sing my part with joy and gusto most of the time, and quickly find it again if I managed to get lost.
This year was much tougher. We didn’t spend much time going over the individual parts in rehearsals, I didn’t put in much practice time because I was in the middle of an insanely-scheduled grad class on top of teaching full-time AND preparing a couple dozen hand-made Christmas gifts, and my trusty alto-sidekicks weren’t there for the performances I was able to attend. I wasn’t the only alto, but the others were more the sort of natural singers who can harmonize off the cuff, which meant they sounded great but they weren’t always singing the exact notes on the paper that I had practiced. I could still sing the alto “melody” by myself in a quiet place or with my hands over my ears, but in the middle of a performance with the other notes around me I would get lost and just have to move my lips for a while till I caught a series of notes I recognized that would let me catch on again. Sometimes I couldn’t even catch the starting note and would wait in frustration with a fake smile for half a verse or even a whole verse before I could start singing. I’m still glad I did it, and I’ll do it again, but next time I’ll put in more effort practicing and, if Steph isn’t going to be there, I will know going in that I won’t be able to sing much – though in that case it will still be frustrating because I LOVE to sing, especially Christmas songs and especially in mixed groups, so being there without being able to sing is like (pick your favorite hobby here) holding luxurious yarn in a gorgeous color and a quality far above what is usually available to you but being unable to find any knitting needles.
Now, it’s nice to vent a bit, but the reason I typed up this experience is that the Father used it to gently remind me that it’s oh-so-easy to sing along with those around us when that isn’t what we’re supposed to be singing. During the caroling, I could just pick up on the melody with the sopranos at any time, no problem (except a few high notes). But I wanted to sing MY part. I wanted to sing the part that suited my vocal range best, despite hearing what was for me the “wrong” part, tantalizingly easy just off to one side, and the confusing mixture of the other parts around me keeping me from finding the “right” note. How often it’s easy to go along with what we see and hear of the lifestyle of those around us. For example, I was taught growing up that we should spend time in prayer and Bible reading daily. But I’ve found that since I don’t hear other people talking about their time with the Father (though a few blog about it now and then), I end up feeling like I’m doing well if I just fit in some quiet time now and then. For all I know, every believer in this city has an hour with the Father each day, but since I almost never hear about it, I feel like I’m try to sing my part without hearing it sung by others. Same thing goes for talking about what He’s teaching us, showing us, how He’s revealing Himself to us. I only talk about it with one or two people from time to time, and I feel like if it were more of a general conversational topic among friends, acquaintances, and co-workers in addition to the weather, TV, or food, it would be like hearing my part around me, helping me stay on key and become better at singing “our” part. This kind of sounds like I’m saying everyone else is responsible for my spiritual state, which while not totally untrue (we DO influence each other and are commanded to build each other up), isn’t really what I’m trying to say. I am part of the “we” that don’t talk about these things. Now and then I’ll think of this issue in the middle of a conversation, and try something out – “What has God been teaching you lately?” “What can I pray for you for?” – but really not very often. What I’m wondering is, how do we change this tune? And can I, with the Father’s help, get better at singing my part even when I don’t hear it around me?