Singing in church for fun and profit (oh, and spiritual growth, too)

I just sat down this  morning and thought about how many denominations for which I have I sung professionally in the last 20+ years….

Presybterian – Calvary, Milwaukee (my first gig for Richard Weber)
Lutheran – First English, Baltimore; St. Mark’s, Baltimore; Bethlehem Lutheran, Milwaukee (again, for Richard Weber)
Christ Science – a variety of the churches in and around Milwaukee
Jewish – Rodef Shalom, VA; Washington Hebrew Congregation, DC; Oheb Shalom, Baltimore; Congregation Sinai, Milwaukee
Unitarian – First Unitarian Church, Milwaukee
Catholic – National Shrine, DC; St. Patrick’s, DC; Mount St. Sepulchre, DC; Fort Belvoir Chapel, VA; St. John’s Cathedral,  Milwaukee
Episcopalian – St. Andrew’s, VA; St. Gregory, IL; St. Paul’s, Milwaukee

I don’t think I’ve ever sung for the Methodists or for UCC. Maybe for a wedding, but the above listing is for soloist/section leader work. Needless to say, I have never sung at a mosque. 

As liberal as I am, I don’t want to sing in services that are too loosey-goosey and contemporary. Give me the incense and the robes and the chanting and I’ll be happy. (Surprisingly, the most high church setting I’ve ever encountered was at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Baltimore. And because James Harp, chorusmaster of the now-defunct Baltimore Opera, was at the helm, we got to sing very full-bodied operatic literature. “Christ est ressuscité!” from Faust on Easter Sunday was a particular highlight.)

My extremely Catholic father always told me that it was a sin to go to any church other than the Catholic Church. And heaven forbid (quite literally) I should ever enter a synagogue and sing in Hebrew. It’s funny that when I do sing for temple gigs, I’m asked if I’m a Russian Jew. Now that would horrify my mother – especially the Russian part.

When people say, ‘I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual,” it’s usually a way of saying, “I don’t go to church” without the implications of “I am a godless heathen.” 

During the years I sang as a section leader, I identified myself as “pay-theist” or “mercenarian.” After choosing to leave church singing, at least for now, I thought I’d go to church for my own spiritual development, but that hasn’t happened yet. While Tim Russert was alive, I identified myself as a member of Our Lady of Meet the Press. But that hasn’t held my interest since then (sorry, David Gregory).  For awhile, Comedy Central was running Dogma on Sunday mornings and any movie in which Alanis Morrissette is the Divine Creator has to have some spiritual value. Lately, I’ve taken to going to the gym for Sunday Zumba classes so I have changed my status to Zumbafarian, which has some interesting Rastafarian implications that I rather enjoy. Maybe I should wear dreads.

I hope my participation as a church soloist/section leader has given people some comfort, hope and enhanced their worship, however they practice that. Right now, I don’t really feel as though I have it to give – for money or for my own spiritual expression. Perhaps I will again. I hope that for now, how I’m choosing to live my life as a teacher, as a wife, as a puppy mama, as a friend, as a writer, and as a singer will offer some kind of benefit to someone somewhere.

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

One thought on “Singing in church for fun and profit (oh, and spiritual growth, too)

  1. That's tight, Christine! I have gone through MANY phases of my beliefs, my tolerance for internal congregational nitpicking and hypocritical back stabbing has dropped at a rapid pace.I never used to miss a single Sunday….then for a while, I refused to go at all…Then I felt like something was missing…..EYE YI YI! At this season of my life, I do what I need to do….or feel like doing or not doing….I don't know if that's ok with the \”Big Guy\”, but He knows my heart and your heart….What I DO believe is that we have to be OK with Him….no matter what our choices are…..I say just be you….you have to live with you……I feel some remaining childhood guilt remains in my heart….I deal with it….and go fly my kite : )

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