August 22, 2015
This entry was written by Jamie McArdle
I have been singing in church choirs since I was eight – the earliest age that I was allowed. It’s been my joy, and often my honor, to sing in choirs at every church my peripatetic Air Force family attended, and as an adult, in every church we have joined in every one of our homes over the years; some of these choirs have been very fine (St. Peter’s is the finest), others have been more on the “everyman” side, but all have given me a way to make a joyful noise unto the Lord, as I’ve felt called to do all my life.
These choir residencies are different. More precisely, I should say that they require a different perspective from me – my innate desire to sing in God’s house is unchanged, but the way in which I have to go about preparing and then offering my voice up to God is unlike any other time in my life.
I used to be adamantly, I might say “militantly,” in the camp of the everyman choir; I knew from my own experience that it isn’t only people with great musical ability and training who feel that call to sing to the glory of God, and I still believe that all who feel it should do their best to express it. After all, God seems very seldom to call perfect people, and the things to which people are called aren’t always the things to which they feel, or are, entirely suited by ability or temperament. I’ve sung with people who don’t read music or whose vocal range is limited or even who can’t reliably match pitch; these people have worked extraordinarily hard to give their best gift.
The choir here in London encompasses a range of ability and training. There are professional and quasi-professional singers; there are singers who have spent months memorizing music in order to feel prepared. There are strong voices who must moderate their strength and light voices who must give their all, in service of a sound in which no one voice stands out but all voices contribute. And this is the difference I’m talking about: in my life prior to St. Peter’s, choral singing was something that, yes, enhanced others’ worship, but I did it primarily because it enriched my experience of God. These residencies give us in the choir great pleasure – but our task is to give others that moment at the end of a busy day in which they can feel that the Divine comes close. We are here to serve God and to serve God’s people through music.
Over the course of the three choral residencies I’ve been fortunate to join, it’s become increasingly clear to me that the intense sense of service we feel in these busy, concentrated weeks is an extension of our role at St. Peter’s. There, too, we each bring our own desire to sing and our own gift for singing to the altar and work hard to create, from our individuality, a sound that is perceived as unified, focused, and as perfect as we can make it – a sound that brings others closer to God. We love what we do, and we know that the pleasure we take in singing is God’s gift to us. Our response to God’s gifts of calling and of enjoyment in that calling is to give back everything we have been given.