Christmas caroling combines some of my very favorite things in the whole world: Christmas, singing, and making people happy. There is a group of alumni from the school where I teach who go around every Christmas, caroling at the homes of their former teachers. I was actually a recipient of this tradition my first year as a teacher, but every year since then, I’ve been a participant. The group has evolved as older students have graduated college and moved away, and this year, with one exception, all 14 of the singers had actually been enrolled in my high school choir class at one point or another.
We always gather in the afternoon for practice (because, of course, we sing in 4 part harmony!), have a quick potluck dinner, and head out as soon as the sun is down to complete a 45-mile loop that hits up about 8 different homes. Julia enjoyed all of the attention and festivities, and even made it to the first 4 houses or so, before her fatigue was evident and Mr. Poole took her home. I really have the best husband in the world – he doesn’t even like singing, but he tagged along in a separate car, just so that when Julia got fussy, I could feed her one more time and then send them home!
(That’s Julia in her caroling outfit with my dear friend and former choir mom, Mrs. K, who hosted our pre-caroling festivities.)
Anyway, things went along as planned, albeit with a fussy baby in the mix this year. We rehearsed a few additions to our repertoire, ate our lasagna, I fed Julia one last time, and we headed out. The fourth house on the list was that of our venerated Bible teacher and his four adorable kids. By this time, Julia was getting upset because she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t all cozy in her crib, and she wanted to go to bed. So, as the students sang a few extra songs at the Bible teacher’s house, I headed to my car to feed Julia again, hoping to settle her down and send her home with Mr. Poole.
Meanwhile, the kids were having fun talking with their old teacher in the front lawn, and they were racking their brains for some impressive selection they could throw together for him. “Let’s do the Hallelujah Chorus!” someone suggested.
The Hallelujah Chorus, or anything from Handel’s Messiah, is not easy. It was definitely not one of the songs in our carol books, and we had certainly not rehearsed it. There are parts that come in all over the place, it changes keys several times, and attempting it without a conductor or an orchestra is quite a feat for amateurs. However, it is the quintessential piece of standard choral literature, and so we had sung it almost every year that I taught high school choir. But there I was, stuck in my car with a nursing four-month-old, listening to this conversation unfold and unable to participate or help!
And then I realized, “Wow, right here is a test of everything I stood for as a choir director for six years. Will a rag-tag group of my former students, who were never all in the same group together, be able to recall and perform a difficult piece of literature that none of them had sung in years? Out of all of the music in the whole world, I would have hoped that the Hallelujah Chorus would be ingrained in their hearts the most, but I was about to experience a true-to-life test of the longevity of my musical instruction in these students’ lives.
Different people have different philosophies of music education. To some, the ultimate goal is to see your students major in music in college, and go on to become professional singers and instrumentalists. For others, they seek after perfection in their performances with their ensembles, pushing their groups year after year to higher and harder musical standards. As a Christian, the purpose of everything I did as a choir teacher was to glorify God, and to teach my students to glorify God with their voices. This was my number one priority. In one sense, I could already see fruit of this goal – for goodness’ sake, here were a bunch of graduates out late on a Thursday night, blessing people’s souls by singing to them!
But if I had a number two priority as a teacher, it would not be to have students who were professional musicians, or even students who participated in their college choirs. My desire is that every student who came through my choir would become a person who truly appreciated good music. After all, it’s the people buying music and paying for concert tickets who will fund the future of music in the world, right? Part of appreciating music meant exposure to the bread and butter of choral repertoire. I suppose if my students could perform the Hallelujah Chorus from memory, unrehearsed, several years after being in my class, that would reveal whether I had been a successful choir teacher or not!
Well, it was not the most perfect rendition of Handel’s classic, but they made it all the way through to the very end, and it might have been the most meaningful performance I’d ever heard. I was close to tears, sitting there in my car, listening to my kiddos, now big grown-up college students, belting out those Hallelujahs with all of their hearts.
“For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Halelujah!”
“The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ! And He shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah!”
It was as if the Lord answered a little doubt I had in the back of my mind that night – the little doubt that said, “Did I finish the work I needed to complete as a choir teacher?” I am so happy and fulfilled as a full-time mommy now, but every once in a while I wonder if I gave up too big of an opportunity to impact eternity during these stay-at-home years. But somehow, in those four minutes in somebody’s front lawn, I felt sure of two things: one, that I had had a significant musical impact in these students’ lives, and two, that my job was done.
I’d passed the test as a music teacher, so now I must face ahead to the newest chapter of my life, knowing that there are many tests to come!