The setting is May of 2003. Little 8th grade me is a few weeks away from graduation. My sister talked me into trying out for the most select choir at Martin Luther High School–the school I would be attending for the next four years.
It’s not cool for guys in middle school to sing, especially when it’s mandatory and the director is more concerned with telling you that you have to sing rather than making you want to sing. Add to that melodies that are way too high and cracking voices; that would discourage just about anyone from singing for the rest of their lives!
So, it’s still rather amazing to me that my sister was able to talk me into trying out. But she did, and I began preparing a piece to sing and learned what “tonal memory” was and how it would be tested and started dreading the sight-reading portion of the audition. On the day of my audition, I walked into the choir room so nervous that I was shaking. I sang a couple stanza’s of “Christ, the Life of All the Living,” rocked the tonal memory portion of the audition and bombed the sight-reading.
About a month later I got a call from my sister, when I was out of town, saying that I got a letter in the mail from the Martin Luther Music Department and asked if she could open it. I said sure, she said she already had and said that I made it into the Troubadours! When I had a chance to see the letter I saw that I was one of three basses in the ensemble, the other two were seniors. From that point on, music and singing specifically have been one of the biggest parts of my life. In High School, I was a member of three choirs, received a choral letter and pin, and in my senior year received the choral musicianship award. Since then I spent a year singing in a choir at Concordia, have appeared in a handful of episodes of Lutheran Time Out and sang and chanted in church and at Higher Things Conferences.
“Okay Jon, we know that you can sing and now it just sounds like you’re bragging. What does all of this have to do with singing for your neighbor?”
I’m extremely thankful for the gift of a good voice and the talent to be able to use it, but this next encouragement is for everyone. If you have a good voice or a bad voice, if you can read music or not, if you’ve been singing in choirs for years or have never had any experience singing under a director, sing!
I’m not going to tell you that God needs you to sing praises to Him. I’m definitely not going to tell you that if you aren’t singing as loud as you can the spirit isn’t really working in your heart. But I am going to tell you to sing. Sing in church. Sing throughout the week. Sing for your neighbor. Even sing for yourself! I don’t care if it’s “good” or not.
As you look around the church on Sunday morning you’ll see all sorts of people for which you should be singing. In the pew ahead of you is the elderly couple who is losing their eyesight and can only sing select stanzas that have been imprinted on their mind throughout the years. To the left is a family whose father has fallen asleep after a long, hard struggle with sickness. Their voices break as they hit some of the lines they need to hear the most, “It was a strange a dreadful strife when life and death contended the victory remained with Life the reign of Death was ended” (LSB 458:4) Sing it for them. Sing it even if you can’t do it on the right notes.
Behind you there are little children who can’t yet read who are counting on hearing you sing so that they may know the treasure of the churches hymns too!
I was blessed to be able to participate in family Vespers with my niece and nephew. Of course, we had to sing their favorite hymn, “Chief of Sinners Though I Be.” They both sang the first two stanzas with all their heart. They can’t read the words or the music but they know them both because they’ve heard their parents and other people sing them. Sing for the little ones in your congregation.
Your pastor needs you to sing too! Even if it sounds terrible and nowhere close to the melody the way it is written, trying to sing it will encourage him to pick the really good hymns that may have a more difficult melody. He also needs to hear the words of the stanzas when he’s distributing the Lord’s Body and Blood or at other times when he doesn’t have the opportunity to sing. Sing for your pastor.
As you sing, even if your singing is flat or sharp or nowhere close to the notes that are written, it encourages those around you to sing as well. That ends up being gift to you.
If the time comes when you can no longer see the words in the hymnal and can only remember some of the hymns that you’ve been singing your whole life, your neighbor will be there to sing for you. When you are faced with the death of loved ones, when you lose your job or your house, when all the changes and chances of life overwhelm you so that even when you try to sing the words just don’t come out, your neighbor is there to sing the treasures of the church for you! When you voice gets stuck in your throat when you hear 1200+ youth belt out “A Mighty Fortress” at a HT conference, your neighbor is there to sing for you! When you bring your own young children to church you can rejoice that the whole congregation is there to help teach your children the faith.
So, sing! Love your neighbor by singing for them. Sing hymns throughout the week with your neighbor and for yourself! Sing the hymns that talk about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for you and for your neighbor too! And when you go through trials and temptations, when you get sick and are near death remember that the church is there singing to you and singing on your behalf.