My wife and I have always been avid readers and listeners. When we met, mumblety mumblety years ago, that meant books printed on paper and music recorded on LPs. We used to joke that our marriage simply formalized the merger of two of the world’s great libraries. Moving days were particularly dreaded in our home because both books and LPs filled dozens of boxes which each weighed about the same as a small John Deere tractor. The official count during one particularly memorable move was 105 such boxes.
We instilled those habits into our children who have largely followed in our footsteps, albeit with Kindles and streaming in place of the quaint (and heavy) formats of yesteryear. In our family there was music playing in the house whenever anyone was at home. That would often mean something classical, especially choral, but there was plenty of variety in the genres, performers and styles being played.
It quickly became a family tradition to attend the Christmas and Easter “Messiah Sing” offered by a local church. All of our children cut their teeth singing the melismas of Handel, which they had heard numerous times in the weeks leading up to these events. The opportunity to sing in a large chorus, accompanied by a professional orchestra, led by an expert conductor, made those evenings both memorable and formative.
It was interesting to observe that as those children matured into adults and left home to follow their own careers and build their own families, the habits of voraciously reading, actively listening, and confidently singing in parts have persisted. These days, when the family gathers, one of the favorite activities is singing together. We can field a pretty decent chamber choir from just family members when the need arises!
This all originated during the years when my wife and I were learning about music under the leadership of gifted and devoted conductors of choirs, bands, and orchestras in our community churches and public schools. I doubt that many of those patient music directors ever gave much thought to the effect that their work would have on generations beyond their own, yet that influence was, and continues to be, both profound and persistent. They would likely be amazed to learn how often their names and teachings are held up in joyful memory, years after their passing from the scene.
Today, as church musicians, educators, composers and arrangers, we are doing the very same work, sowing the same seeds, laying the same foundations for our current crop of singers, instrumentalists, and students. We, too, can scarcely imagine the influence that we are having, through the music of worship, on generations yet unborn. It can be comforting at times to hold on to the thought that the future is largely opaque to us, and that our musical efforts are opening doors which will allow the Holy Spirit to touch and to change lives. (This can be especially comforting just after you stop and correct the sopranos for the fourth time on that irregular rhythm in measure seventeen.)
So, when the challenges of the day seem to gather like the memes on the internet, we can all find some added strength in the knowledge that we are engaged in laying the foundation of a great work, a work which we may not be able to see in its entirety from our current perspective. That’s the time to put down our digital devices, take up our batons and lead our groups into the future, singing as we go.
And remember, no matter how tough things may get, you don’t have to load 105 boxes of books and LPs into a U-Haul truck today!
Daniel E. Gawthrop