I remember that one time, when I was a teenager, my father was speaking in church and he mentioned that he had always enjoyed singing, even though he’d never been very good at it. This came as a surprise to me because I’d always thought my father must be a pretty good singer; after all, he did it all the time. He sang a lot at home, and he always sang with enthusiasm at church (a rarity in Mormon congregations, as anyone who’s ever paid attention to one of our worship services knows–granted, I’m not sure how many people have actually done that). He had also always been in every ward choir in every ward we were ever in. I kind of wish he had never mentioned that he wasn’t a very good singer because after that I began to notice the limitations of his voice, even though I continued to enjoy it. My father’s singing is the sound of my childhood (the parts I care to remember)–my dad singing Chad Mitchell Trio’s “Story of Alice” or “James James Morrison Morrison,” or sending us off to the tub with “Oh, it’s bathtiiiiiime in the Rockieeees.” One of my earliest memories is sitting in on all the rehearsals where the ward choir was learning a musical rendering of Psalm 23. I have had Psalm 23 memorized ever since, but I can’t recite it without wanting to break into song at the end. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me aaaaaaaall the days of my liiife, and I SHALL DWELL IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD FOREEEEEEEEEE-VER!
Sorry, I sometimes still get carried away.
Interestingly enough, I disliked singing very much as a child and even more as a youth. I never sang in Primary. (Singing was actually one of the reasons I didn’t care for Primary.) I didn’t sing in music class at school. (Yes, I’m dating myself a bit here; they actually taught music in public school in those days.) I don’t remember why I didn’t like it, except maybe I was too shy. (Although I have always resented people applying that term to me, I’m afraid it may actually be true.) I didn’t like talking in front of other people, so why would I want to sing (even in a group)? As a young woman I felt even less comfortable singing in church, partly because I was still
shy socially reserved and partly because I had inherited my mother’s tenor voice and couldn’t hit the notes the other girls did without hurting myself.
When did I start singing? Well, when I became an adult and started going to church by myself, I guess I felt obligated to sing the hymns. And then I guess I started liking it. Being a grown-up is scary. Sometimes, when you’re in an apartment in a strange city all by yourself at night, singing a hymn actually helps. (Fortunately, I knew a lot of them, having listened to so many for so long. I always liked listening to them.) But–and this is embarrassing, but I’m on the internet and embarrassing myself on the internet is what I do–I didn’t really start singing in earnest until I joined a stake choir so I could hang out with my friends and also (mostly) this guy I had a crush on. (My husband loves that story. Probably because he was the guy. Well, I was young. What can I tell you?) I did not try to sing tenor because that seemed overly bold, even for my newly-bold self. (Stalking young men at choir rehearsal–this is how it starts.) Instead I learned that I was quite capable of singing alto (as long as I didn’t have to go too high). Once I learned how to pick out the part that was in my vocal range, I found singing a lot more satisfying. In fact, I found I liked it very, very much. And just like my dad, I started doing it all the time, even though I wasn’t very good at it.
Despite the fact that I sang every last one of my children to sleep when they were babies, none of them is nearly as fond of my voice as I was of my father’s. In fact, when they started talking, one of the first things they learned to say was “Don’t sing.” And that’s fine. I don’t need my children to enjoy my singing; in fact, it’s probably better that I keep it as a weapon to use to my advantage when the time is right. (“I’m just going to keep singing until you get out of bed. Trust me, I can go all morning.”) My children have historically been among the more ill-behaved people in sacrament meeting, but they know not to bother me while I’m singing. That’s the only part of church I consistently enjoy, and I’m very disappointed when I can’t participate in it.
I think Mormons, in general, don’t appreciate the importance of music in a worship service. This is not to say that Mormons don’t appreciate music or they don’t appreciate good music–I don’t know if they do or not. I haven’t done a survey. I’ve just been to a lot of Mormon worship services, and when it comes to the congregational hymns, most of us are phoning it in. It’s true that we have our kids climbing all over us and we’re probably thinking about the lesson we have to teach next hour and blah blah–I know. This is the same stuff that keeps me from paying attention to the speakers, so it’s not like I’m Sister High and Mighty lecturing everyone about proper sacrament meeting form. But sometimes I listen to us sing and it is just painful to hear how tired and bored we all sound. Well, in fairness we probably are tired and bored. Normally I’m all for more personal authenticity at church, but hymn-singing, I think, is one of those areas where we could afford to fake it a little more.
Well, it turns out that I can’t say any more on this subject without turning into Sister High and Mighty lecturing you all on proper sacrament meeting form, so instead I’ll turn the time over to you, brothers and sisters. How do you feel about singing in church?