There’s been a change of heart

This morning, I sang for an Easter service for the first time since I left St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in 2008. I’m used to singing at Episcopal and Christian Science churches, where the repertoire tends to be very traditional. And even though I’m not currently subscribing to any particular faith (does our Lady Queen of Brunch count? what about Zumbafarian?), I am a traditionalist in terms of worship music. I love to sing and listen to plainchant, Renaissance motets, Bach Cantatas, Mozart Masses, bombastic late Romantic Anglican anthems, and the like.

So when I was asked to sing at a Unity Church in Elm Grove, and to sing contemporary Christian music, I had second thoughts. And then I was told the fee was $100 and those went out the window.

When I received the music, I groaned. And then I sang it, and I shrieked. As a snobbish liberal elitist and conservatory trained opera singer, singing New Age-y rep like “Was it a morning like this?” and the over-the-top, constantly modulating and mawkish “They could not” set my teeth on edge. And “The Prayer” (sung by Josh Groban and Celine Dion) could not be cheesier and more “popera”-ish.

Two things happened to change my mind.

The first was that I had a rehearsal on Thursday with the keyboard player, bassist and the tenor soloist. The keyboard player was George Busateri, who has been a force in Milwaukee music for decades. The bass player was Duane Stuermer, who has played with Sweetbottom and other well-known bands in the area (and is Genesis guitarist Daryl Stuermer’s brother). The tenor I knew – Stuart Mitchell, with whom I’ve sung several times and who got me the gig in the first place. He’s a great singer and he knows the style so well, despite the fact that he is also an elitist opera singer. 🙂

They were fantastic. The rehearsal was a joy. I had a great time singing bad music. Who’da thunk it?

The second thing happened this morning, in the service itself. I saw how much this music meant to the congregation. It moved them, it touched them, it spoke to them. So I went with it. Even though it’s not my preferred choice of worship expression, I decided to play the role of a contemporary Christian performer and give them what they needed. Their response was so positive that it made me give more. And it wasn’t artificial or contrived. I was truly in the moment, expressing the meaning behind the text. It was a rush. I got a standing ovation after “They could not” (a song described by both Matt Bender and Kelsee York in their lessons as “the worst song I’ve ever heard”). People wept. I’ve never had the experience in a church setting before. At least not to that extent.

I don’t tell this to say, “Look how great I am – I made people cry – I got a standing ovation!” I haven’t changed my mind about contemporary Christian music. I’m not going to go join a praise band (shudder). But it was a huge discovery for me – and one that I think I can take to my future sacred and secular performances. 

When you give, you get. And then you give more. And then you get more. And it’s a joy. And that’s why we do what we do. And I hope I get to do more of it!

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