Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Singing Tenor

Well, I never thought I'd see this day, but it has arrived.  I am singing tenor.

The choir at my church is a very small group of churchgoers who love to sing together.  Every year, for the past 12 years, I have watched them try to recruit new members, and every year the same little group with the same people sits over in the choir chairs, unchanged.  One of the new members they have succeeded to recruit has been me, but only partly successfully.  For I have been a very haphazard and on-again off-again addition to their group.  This is partly because of the demands of raising a family and the way the church has the CCD program set up so that the choir mass is not the one that is convenient if one is participating in the program, but some of it has also been because I have conflicting feelings about participating when the repertoire is less than challenging and even some of it unattractive to me.

I have a conflict inside about this part of me that requires to be challenged by the musical group I join and whether I should seriously commit to our church group.  On the one hand, the challenge -- the actual musical challenge -- and hard work is what fulfills and gratifies me.   Yet there are many other reasons to sing, and many other joys that can be found in singing in all kinds of situations and all kinds of ways.  So, it has seemed a bit haughty or proud to brush off a group because it doesn't take on challenging repertoire.  And "haughty and proud" doesn't quite fit in with my idea of what church is supposed to be for.  Or even singing, for that matter.

And besides all that, "haughty and proud" is completely uncalled for considering that it may be based on a complete over-estimation of my abilities anyway.

In contrast to this, there is the ideal of "service" and sharing one's gifts with one's spiritual community.  This is a strong recommendation to sing with the little choir in one's place of worship.

And thus it has been -- back and forth -- in again, out again --  on again, off again -- singing when there's something in it for me, i.e., a solo, or a chance to substitute cantor -- or else at other times putting aside self-gratification, committing to the year, regardless, and singing as a gift of self.

Until I have got to the point now where the organist approached me and asked me if I would sing tenor for an Easter cantata.

The Easter cantata went over so well, that now the choir director has asked the four of us who sang it if we will be a regular little quartet.  He is excited because now he can do some pieces he would like to, and he can write some arrangements.

And I said yes to being this little quartet's tenor.

And after last night's rehearsal I can say that there have been some little moments of surprise in it for me.

For one thing, singing tenor is very easy for me because I do not have the stress or fatigue of navigating the stresses and pressures of the higher voice and passage notes.  For another, there is a little challenge because of having sung alto for so many years, my vocal "center" finds it interesting to be placed differently, and even reading the music is a little challenging.  I had not realized that I had developed an "alto alphabet" that made my reading in the alto range somewhat automatic of a response, so switching down to tenor keeps me on my toes, because it is a different set of reading, and it is less "automatic,"  It is almost as if reading the tenor line is like reading another language altogether, a different set of blending and listening skills are required.

Another thing is that, for me, the tenor line is completely at the service of the ensemble.  There is no temptation to want to be heard above any others, and the crucial aspects of ensemble singing such as listening carefully, matching tones and blending are exercised better for me than when I am singing alto.

All-in-all, what I had considered to be somewhat of a "demotion" is turning out to be of great value to me as a musician.


  1. As much as I agree with you about being gracious and giving to your community, there is a point at which it doesn't make sense.

    It's like making a Kentucky Derby winner pull a cart. Yes, it's a horse, but it is bred and trained to an entirely different kind of job.

    One of my favourite quotes is "always choose guilt over resentment."

    I decided a long time ago that involvement in church music had to be on my terms (or mostly on my terms). Because the worth of my gift is less if it is given with resentment and ill-feelings.

  2. Yes, Beach Bum, while thinking further about this post and trying to get to the crux of it, I realized the issue is the investment of TIME. Time is so precious and what we spend it on has to be weighed. To be considering the benefits of spending one's time on something is not being petty -- in fact it is putting a value on one's life and the time one has put into a skill.

  3. I've been there! It was a long time ago... but when I was in high school I sang alto in the school chorus. However they never had enough boys in the chorus so somehow I got drafted into singing tenor for classical pieces like the Halleluja Chorus. To this day I only know the tenor line! I'm glad you see the value in it - it's always valuable, in my opinion, to learn another side or aspect of the music, and to see how your brain and body adjust and respond. Enjoy!