Our oldest son told me once: “Mom, life is not an opera.” Oh, I don’t know about that. My older sisters and I called ourselves “The Singing Salerno Sisters” when we were growing up. We sang constantly: pop songs, church pieces and folk music. When I became a mother, singing my babies to sleep was merely the end of a day spent singing to them. Now, I sing while schlepping our boys to their activities. I sing (not too loudly) to relieve my stress in the grocery store line. I sing while waiting for the tank to fill up at the gas station. All my singing, however, largely has been done in private. I hadn’t sung in any kind of group for at least a decade until I joined our church choir this fall. Because the choir is so small—two voices to a part—I’ve had to rethink the way I sing and the way I live.
The last time I sang for any sustained time in formal groups was 30 years ago. I sang in three high school groups: chorus, concert choir and madrigal choir. Even the madrigal choir was big enough that I could hide. There always were several altos who were much more confident and talented than I. So I hid behind their voices. I waited for them to come in on our part. I followed behind.
I can’t hide now. In my church choir, I’m one of two altos. Sometimes, my fellow alto has to sing tenor because her range is too low. Sometimes, she has trouble finding the right notes or rhythms, as do I. This means I can’t lean on her. I can’t hide my voice behind hers. I can’t assume she’s leading me anywhere.
As a result of being one of just two altos, I’ve discovered I don’t always have the best grasp on lyrics. Often, what I imagine the words to be is slightly off from what the words are. I’ve discovered I can be lazy about counting, so I invent my own rhythms. I’ve discovered I’m always waiting for someone else to start singing my part.
I’ve had to confront the idea that my voice is my own. I’ve got to keep the time. I’ve got to know my part. I’ve got to know my words. My voice is part of a larger group of singers who are relying on me to be prepared and confident so in harmony we can all pray to God through song.
I am thankful that God, who created the music of the cosmos, led me to this choir. My fellow choristers are helping me learn to share what gifts I have in ways I never have before.“Give thanks to the LORD on the harp; with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises. Sing to him a new song; pluck the strings skillfully, with shouts of gladness.”