Monthly Archives: January 2013

How to Sing, Step Two: Listening

Matching pitch is a great beginning, because it requires that there be at least two singers: the model, and the mimic. Sometimes this is a teacher-student relationship, but not always. Sometimes it’s just two kids playing on a playground, or sisters washing dishes together while they figure out how to harmonize with each other. The key to singing with someone else is to match tone and volume as well as pitch. If one singer overpowers another, or one voice is more strident than the other, it stops being fun pretty quickly. Choral directors work hard to create the perfect balance of voices, the perfect blend of choral tone. But it’s really very simple. If you want to sing with someone else and make it a mutually satisfying experience, you only have to follow one rule:

Listen louder than you sing.

Notice how the foundation of good singing has more to do with your ears than your throat? Listening means paying attention to what you hear. If you are trying to sing with someone else, but you only pay attention to your own voice, you probably are not going to be singing in perfect harmony with your partner. Chances are good that you will not even be singing in the right key. However, if you focus your attention more on the other people singing with you and less on your own sound, you will (almost) automatically sing with exactly the right volume, pitch, and tone to fit in with the voices around you.

Why am I so concerned with group singing instead of solo singing? Because I truly believe that the whole purpose of singing is to sing with more than to another. It is one of the fundamental ways we communicate things we cannot say. Besides, it is only when our voices work with other voices that what we sing matters. If you are singing alone, you can be in any key, at any volume, on any pitch, and get away with being less than accurate.

But when we sing together, a strange thing happens. What we do with our own voices suddenly matters to the whole of which we are a part.

If we apply this truth to the church, listening louder than we sing becomes a wonderful metaphor for Christian life in community. Putting my own voice in background, paying attention to what I hear around me, and finding my place in the harmony of Kingdom life together lets me be all of who I am, while reminding me that I am only a part of the greater whole. As we work together for peace, justice, and righteousness, my personal agenda becomes much less important than supporting my brothers and sisters. Love trumps all.

Coming Thursday: Breathing the song…

How to Sing, Step One: Matching Pitch

My step-dad claimed he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But he loved to listen to music. Whenever my best friend came to our house, he asked her to play “that Show-pan Polly-naze” for him. He only knew one Chopin Polonaise, and though my friend knew several, she would sit at the piano and crank out Opus 40, No. 1 as if it were the only one ever written. And my dad would sit back and smile, nodding slightly, not sure why he liked it but happy to hear it nonetheless.

Put a hymnal in his hands, though, and he would shake his head and smile his toothy grin and say, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.”

But he could. He just didn’t know how to make the tune that came out of his mouth be the same one everyone else was singing around him. He could sing, and he even had a pleasant bass baritone voice, but he couldn’t match pitch.

Matching pitch is not so much a vocal skill as an aural one. It takes a lot of trial and error for some children to find and reproduce a tone sung to them, but nearly everyone with good hearing can match pitch with a little practice. As a young music teacher, I observed my mentor encouraging kindergarten students with a phrase I often repeated: “I just have to find the right key to help you unlock this door.” The puzzle was finding the right set of pitches for the student to experience success just once, then build on that success. We would start with whoops and hollers, making our voices into roller coasters or parachutes falling from imaginary helicopters, moving on to “nanny-nanny-boo-boo” chants and mimicry.

But sometimes I had to work harder to help a child find and reproduce a specific pitch or melodic pattern. Usually, this meant having the child sing to me, and then echoing with my own voice what I had just heard. As I modeled the process of matching pitch, I was also affirming that the sound the child was making was, in fact, a singing sound. Apparently, no one ever did this for my step-dad. He went through life thinking he couldn’t sing, because no one ever taught him how to match pitch.

Yet, if God sings (Zephaniah 3:17) and we are made in God’s image, doesn’t it stand to reason that each of us can sing, that we were created to sing? The question then becomes, what song are we singing? And who is matching pitch with us?

Now let’s think about your pastor for a moment. “Yeah, well, my pastor can’t sing,” you may be thinking. Consider, however, that your pastor is singing, has been singing, will continue to sing, but the problem may not be one of vocalization. It may be simply that you and your pastor are not matching pitch with each other. Maybe your pastor is trying to lead your church in a direction you don’t want to follow, or your pastor is changing things that you want to stay the same. Maybe your pastor isn’t listening to you. Maybe you listen to your pastor only through the filter of your own song.

What would happen if you stopped for just a moment, to really listen to your pastor’s song?
What would happen if you stopped for just a moment, to really listen to God’s song?

Can you hear a little bit of God’s song as your pastor sings? If they aren’t exactly the same tune, are they at least in harmony with each other?

Can you hum a few bars?

What Song Does Your Pastor Sing?

In my last post, I noted that loving mercy and doing justice get a lot of lip service among Christians, but we often fail to really show mercy and act justly. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s a great example of one man who has stretched himself and encouraged others in his efforts to promote justice and reconciliation. Go read the article now, then come back here. I’ll wait for you, I promise.  Actions, Words Speak to Power of Forgiveness.

As I thought about Darrell Auginash’s amazing quest, I realized it’s more than just a great story. This is his song. This is God breathing through him, using Darrell’s voice to break the cycle of “sin-anger-revenge” and suffering with the fresh wind of forgiveness.

And it occurred to me that every pastor has a song. Every Christian has a song. Every one of us should be singing with a full, resonant voice, reflecting God’s voice into the world around us. What song has God given you to sing? You are the only one who can give it voice. Go ahead. Take a low, deep breath, and start singing!

Over the next few weeks, I hope to focus on the songs our pastors sing to us and for us. Maybe your pastor has a passion for multicultural ministry, or ministry to college students, or missions, or caring for families with young children. I encourage you to start listening a little more closely for the song your pastor is singing. When you pick up the tune, maybe you can sing along.

Mercy and Justice

This is not a blog post about Martin Luther King Day, even though we celebrate 50 years of “I Have A Dream” today. This is not a blog post about the presidential inauguration. Four years ago was history in the making. Today is just confirmation that it wasn’t a fluke. Frankly, I don’t have a thing to say on either of these topics that someone else hasn’t already said better and more eloquently. (And I am not talking about Mark Driscoll, who seems to have forgotten that bit about “judge not, unless you wanna be judged.”)

What burns my oatmeal right now is the awareness that, as much as we say mercy and justice matter to us as Christ-followers, most of the Christians I know are not too comfortable making mercy and justice a reality for others. We are grateful when it comes our way, but showing mercy – real caring for another that costs us – is something we simply don’t know how to do very well. We can pray for another’s need. We can talk about a problem we see. But when it comes to forgiving someone who has wronged us or putting another’s welfare and safety ahead of our own, we look more like Mark Driscoll than Jesus.

And do we even know what justice really is? The mission statement for my denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, focuses on the desire to see more disciples among more populations in a more caring and just world, but what exactly does that mean? Whose justice are we talking about here? And who gets to decide what that justice looks, smells, and feels like?

Jesus came into the world to shine light into our darkness, to make wrong things right again, to heal brokenness and offer hope where there is no hope. He calls each of us to participate in that same work. So I have to ask myself: What am I doing to show that kind of mercy and build that kind of justice? What are you doing to make this a more caring and just world? 

Packing Up Christmas

Christmas Eve 2012

Christmas Eve 2012

We finally took down the tree and put away all the Christmas decorations today. Don’t worry. It isn’t a live tree, so we weren’t creating a fire hazard by leaving the tree up so long. In fact, it’s the flame retardant quality of a fake tree that we like so much, since we burn real candles on our tree every year. Yes, we do. Maybe only a couple of times, unless we have guests during the Christmas season, but we never fail to light the tree the first night it is up, and Christmas Eve is the other non-negotiable candle-lighting event. Other than that, we usually only light the tree for company. And that is why we waited until now to take everything down – we had company that couldn’t come until well after Epiphany. What a great excuse to leave the tree up another week or two, right? I’ll take any excuse I can get.

To tell the truth, I would leave the house decorated for Christmas right up to Lent, if I thought I could get away with it. (One year, we almost did!) The place always looks so stark and empty after the decorations are put away. It looks …. colder.  Even when the tree isn’t lit, it adds warmth to the room. When it’s gone, I miss more than the candle glow. I miss the tiny sparkle of glass icicles, the memory attached to each ornament that hangs there. I miss the expectation, the hopefulness, the anticipation of joy.

That is why there are two items that remain in place, while everything else is packed away for another eleven months (okay, ten and a half months). One is the wreath at the front door. The first year we lived in Minnesota, we were amused to see Christmas yard decorations and light displays still evident through February. We chalked it up to the fact that no one wants to get out in the snow in sub-freezing weather to take down lights or the reindeer from the front lawn. But the wreaths hanging on everyone’s door, sometimes right into March, completely befuddled us. What’s so hard about taking down a wreath, after all?

Not a thing. That’s the point. It isn’t laziness; it’s defiance. That wreath will keep looking fresh all through the winter, if you just leave it alone. It’s a beautiful paradox: frozen greenery. Think about it. Leaving the wreath on the door says, “You can’t beat me, Winter. I will stay green no matter what.” And we do. We may be frozen, but underneath the ice, we are still green.
Still alive.

The other thing that stays in place is the Christ candle from the Advent wreath. The candle burns on Sunday nights, if we remember to light it, and stays in place until it’s time to get a new one for the next Advent wreath. This Christ candle carries us through Lent, into Easter, through Pentecost and the long season of Ordinary Time. It is a reminder that the Light of the World has broken into our lives, and will not be extinguished, no matter what. The expectation, the hopefulness, the anticipation of joy is still present every day of the year, for God is with us. We are still green.

WARNING: Contents Under Pressure | Worship Connect

Here’s my monthly post over on the WorshipConnect blog: WARNING: Contents Under Pressure | Worship Connect.

I realized after I wrote it that it has been a full month since I wrote anything on my own blog! I’m sorry to have dropped the ball. We were dealing with a few family crises (on top of the ones happening at church) at Chez Taylor. Short story: had to buy a new kitchen stove, deal with family illness, Christmas! and accompanying travel, and … my husband lost his job. (I won’t insult you with a frowny face icon. Just know that he is taking it a lot better than I have been, but I’m coming around to his positive take on the whole thing. And if you need a grant writer, send me a message so I can put you in touch with him!)

Soooo…. here we are halfway through January, and it’s time to get back in the swing of things. I have lots of scribbled notes that I have accumulated over the past month, and my plan is to post something on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday each week. Tonight’s post is just a bonus to get the gears meshing again.

Would love to hear from you, too! How was your Christmas? What  resolutions have you already broken this New Year? How have you found the Light of the World illuminating your own personal darkness?