The Children’s Choir of Ukraine was invited to sing in Carnegie Hall last weekend. As it turns out, the familiar “Carol of the Bells” is a Ukrainian song. Watching the choir sing it on YouTube brought tears to my eyes. A New York Times article about these children continuing to sing even in a war zone, having to scurry for cover when the air sirens go off, and to practice even in bomb shelters, was moving and powerful. And it concluded that, “the choristers have also forged a determination to use music as a way to heal Ukraine and promote their culture around the world.”
I have a personal understanding of the power of choral music. I had never sang with a choir until last year. I have always loved music and still remember singing hymns in church and with our Young Life group as a teen. But my mother told me that I could not carry a tune, so I have never believed in my own voice.
My husband, on the other hand, sings in several choirs and plays the piano for Caldwell Presbyterian Church. Our children sang with youth choirs and glee clubs for years. I have always been surrounded by lovely voices as an adult, but was afraid to join in.
My husband encouraged me to join the choir at Caldwell. As I learned from attending with him, their service is more informal than the Episcopal services I grew up with. The choir was smaller, and there were no “try-outs” to join. So I finally went one Sunday, warmed up with the sopranos, and tried singing with them. It was not a disaster. So I kept coming.
Stay informed with news and events that impact Charlotte’s Black communities.
What I discovered was the beauty of being in the middle of other voices. There is a resonance, a rhythm, a blending that you can hear when you are not in the audience but standing among others who have practiced together and are singing with you. The members of the Caldwell choir are as varied as can be. We have members who are young, old, Latino, gay, straight, male, female, transgender, Black, white, and of varying socio-economic classes as well – and yet our voices blend beautifully. Some are singing the same notes, some are singing harmony, and when I am among these voices, I hear all this in a way that is different from just singing in the pews. My voice aligns with the sopranos around me, and I feel the resonance physically. Any reader who sings in a choir will think this is obvious. But as someone who did not grow up singing this way, it was a revelation.
Not everyone can join a choir. But there are other ways to learn about blend. In fact, this choir reminded me of the exhilaration I got when I rowed with a crew in graduate school. When all eight of those on an oar hit the water together and pull in unison, you feel the boat “walk” on the water. It is a sport where you work hard to not stand out. It is a similar exhilaration, a feeling of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, a feeling of being part of something large and more powerful than you could imagine.
This is what community feels like. The feeling of working together, not to stand out but to blend, is spiritual, and healing, and powerful — and too rare in our capitalist, competitive, winner-take-all society. Even social media can feel like a competition to see who has the best vacation photos, or the coolest selfie with a famous person, or who can get the most “likes.”
Before my conservative friends get their hackles up, let me confirm that I am not preaching socialism. There is a place for competition, and innovation, and standing out. But there is also a place for community and for blending, and I believe that it is too seldom experienced today. Perhaps during this holiday season, we can each try to find one thing where we work as a team, as a unit, and not as a standout. And through this action, whatever it is, we can understand better that those around us who may look different and come from different backgrounds or faith traditions – and maybe even different ideologies or political parties – are not so different after all.