Despite a range approaching a full octave (on a good day), I must admit to myself that I am in the lowest quartile of the population when it comes to singing quality. My timbre is terribre. What makes it worse is that I’ve been fortunate to know and work with many people in the upper onetile (not a word, but you know what I mean — we’re talking up there) when it comes to singing. These people effortlessly combine music and lyrics in a way that just resonates with your soul.
Me? Not so much. Mostly, my singing is reserved for the shower, where I am somehow able to channel my inner Michael Buble (though from outside the shower, I’m told it more closely resembles Michael Scott with a head cold — I think it must have something to do with the refractive prism effect of the water droplets on my notes — yeah, that’s probably it).
In public, due to the whole golden rule thing, I tend to avoid singing. I make one exception, and that is singing hymns in church, where it is part of the deal. You grab a hymnbook and pitch in, so to speak. We’re told that a hymn is like a prayer we can all offer together. It’s a way for the whole congregation to unite to create a conducive environment where good things can happen. But it only works if people participate. So I try to set aside my self-conciousness and do my best to sing. Maybe not the loudest singer in the chapel, but ever since I realized that my singing had become barely more audible than the faintest of humming, if not straight mumbling, I’ve consciously tried to force myself to sing loudly enough that if everyone stopped singing and the organ stopped playing and I were to be the only one singing, that at least the person sitting directly in front of me would turn around to see what was wrong. That’s my bar.
So when the organist starts the intro of a hymn, I dutifully open my hymnbook (bonus points if I can open it to the right page first crack — I’ve gotten bonus points about five times lifetime, but most were unwitnessed, so apparently I can’t count them), then do my best to cobble together a line through each stanza of enough of the lower tenor notes and the upper bass notes to make it through all verses without hurting anybody.
The Other Side of Music
Once, when I was thus navigating my way through the lines of one tried and true hymn, “Where Can I Turn for Peace?”, I noticed my normally hymnally participatory and lovely voiced better half stopped singing mid-line. I noticed she was a little choked up. I asked what was the matter.
She said simply, “The words.”
I looked at the words, which I had been singing, but not really noticing, being so tied up in try to stay on pitch to quell the criticism of my inner Randy Jackson (“there were some serious pitch issues, dawg”). And when I reread the lyrics we had just been singing (you can take a look here), I got choked up. Even though I’d probably trudged over the lyrics several dozen times before, when I finally paid attention to the message, pow. Big mistake. Thanks a lot, Suzanne.
Since then, my note to self has been this: direct a little more of my already taxed attention to the lyrics, not just the notes. It’s not easy for amateurs like me (a bit like rubbing my tummy and patting my head), but I’m trying. Word of advice, though: probably not good to sit right in front of me at church. Two pews ahead, you’re fine.
I’ll leave you with this. Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees doing a raw, homemade version of this hymn a few days ago, shortly after his announcement. You get the sense when you hear him sing this that he’s feeling the lyrics a lot right now. He writes, “One of my favorite songs. Been thinking of it lately and it’s always been so comforting. Hope if you’re feeling a little out of sorts or lost that it brings you comfort too.”
Maybe a missed chord change or two, I don’t know. No matter.