Monday, April 23, 2012

Singing In The Choir

This past Sunday, the members of the church choir at Christ Church, Bay Ridge Brooklyn, stayed after the service and sang with me. I've been writing a submission for the Dear Harvey "contest" being held by the San Francisco Gay Men's Choir.

The singers in this choir are so good. And they're also young, fresh, talented, can read music, and sing just about anything. We sang, in the service, a Beethoven "Hallelujah" that would have taken most choirs months to learn. This choir learned it in just one rehearsal.

When Fr. Jeff Hamblin and Mark Janas created this choir, it wasn't merely for vanity's sake. He really believes that  sacred music, especially when beautifully and expertly, and meaningfully sung, brings the presence of God into a room -- and is an essential part of the liturgy. 

I confess that when I began at the church, it was purely because I wanted to sing and work under the baton of Mark Janas, because he is as close to a maestro as I've gotten in my life. I knew, coming to New York City, to put myself with people who knew, and could do, more than me. 

I didn't really know anything about the church itself. And I had never fully participated in traditional liturgical services, having grown up Baptist. I honestly, going into this, didn't even know what a liturgy was. Our country services were far more free-form, though, by habit, most Baptist churches more or less do the same things every Sunday. 

So, as I say, when I started there -- I believe the choir was probably a year or two old, by then -- I knew nothing about the structure of the service. I was there to learn. I was there as a student. With this amazing choir on hand, I could write songs and, with Mark, write arrangements, and hear them the following morning! How incredible is that! 

Eventually, because of the songs I was writing, they honored me with a title, "resident composer." What the congregation seems to respond to is the fact that my songs depart from the style of traditional liturgical music. They're more personal. They bring in a newer Gospel sound. It gives them a chance to experience a variety of music on a Sunday morning. And I generally sing the song just after 'the peace." (Where everyone goes around and says, "Peace be with you." It's a more informal moment in the service -- after the scripture readings and sermon, and before the Eucharist.)

I still don't completely relate, personally, to a liturgical service. The modern skeptic in me, combined with my Baptist heritage. It all feels somewhat alien. But I do love singing the music and being a part of a service that means to much to so many people. This church does good work in the community and in the world, such as collecting money for people in Haiti. 

Next week, I'm going to debut a new song written just for them, and about Fr. Jeff and Mark's work. It won't put Beethoven out of business, but it will be directly from the heart. And that's what really matters.

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