Facebook is currently abuzz with many of our choral colleagues taking in annual music conferences across the nation. Many of these gatherings are reading sessions by the hour, directors in search of fresh artistic expressions of faith and music publishers making available samples of their latest and most promising releases. Directors will soon return back to their home choirs bearing the fruits of these cross-country anthem auditions.
This beginning-of-the-year octavo shopping occurs at the end of the Christmas season, at which time most of us have been about the considerable task of finding perfect gifts (or at least suitable, appropriate expressions) for our beloved family and friends.
As important as the holiday shopping has been for our loved ones, the post-season anthem shopping for our choirs is equally crucial. One need not direct a youth choir long before encountering an enormous reality: teenagers remember texts, tunes, and the spiritual concepts we teach them in choir. Not only do they remember them for decades, but their live are shaped by these soundtracks. If we can manage to provide our students healthy and relevant texts coupled with well-crafted music, the soundtrack created by the experience of making music can last a lifetime, indeed, an eternity.
But most of us have known this for years or even decades? What’s new?
What’s new is that we have new students moving through our programs as surely and steadily as a people-mover at the airport. There’s no stopping the parade, that is, unless we determine to discontinue entirely our ministry with teenagers. They come to us as older children, grow as quickly as shrubbery, and leave us as soon-to-be-adults and leaders of our community and world.
If, physically, we are what we eat, then spiritually, our students are what they sing. The truth of scripture set to song will stand the test of time. The music need not necessarily be difficult, overly complex, or from a certain time period. At its best, it will be stylistically diverse, imbued with energy, and sung with joy and commitment. None of these benefits can occur without the deep passion and broad compassion of us directors.
The recent New Year’s Eve PBS special which featured the New York Philharmonic and spotlighted the work of Leonard Bernstein, revealed something special about the legendary composer/conductor. Said one long-time member of the Philharmonic under Bernstein’s baton, “Lenny’s whole approach to making music was about sharing and spreading unconditional love. When he entered even an average rehearsal, he did so with hugs and smiles and warm handshakes, always asking orchestra players by name about their family members, sick loved ones, babies and children. His art was projected to the orchestra as a warm act of love … always … continually. And that’s why we played with such heart, soul, and abandon.”
This was a New Year’s reminder to me that I often become way too focused on the mechanics and logistics. Yes, these are important, but they are never as important as the love shared between director and singers. What makes/made Bernstein and other world-class conductors so effective is that they are/were able to filter their musical genius through the embrace of genuine friendship and love.
May we put the best music possible in the hands of our choirs. May we give them the rich gifts of love which spill over from us to them. May we transform the musical rehearsal and “performance” into acts of giving, mutual sacrifice, and service to others.