Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.
I LOVE CHRISTMAS!!!!!!! Our Church choir put on our first concert of the Christmas season on Sunday night. We based the program on the above Gloria text and performed settings by Mozart, Haydn, Randol Alan Bass, and (most famously) Vivaldi. (You can watch the first movement of our Vivaldi Gloria performance here.) It was SO MUCH FUN! Especially for me, now out of the daily choral-directing scene since becoming a full-time mom. If I can’t direct a choir, then singing in a choir is the next best thing!
Our choir consists of a dedicated group of amateurs. Dedicated, but amateur. Based on the repertoire chosen for concerts, however, one might be under the impression that our director thinks that we’re professionals. But time and again, no matter how difficult the music and how unprepared we may feel, when we put on our fancy black clothes, add real live professional soloists and instrumentalists, dim the lights, and pray super-hard right before going on stage, somehow it always comes together.
This is a phenomenon I’ve witnessed countless times as a musician. God takes a meager musical offering and without fail turns it into something magnificently beyond ourselves. And it’s no wonder – He invented music in order that we might glorify him! So when we do muster up all our talent and attempt something beyond our natural capabilities, and then we do succeed in making beautiful music, it is obvious that it had nothing to do with the performers and everything to do with God blessing his servants. And that is how God is most glorified – in our greatest weaknesses. You gotta love 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
So… My responsibilities last night involved a) conducting a selection from the Bach Christmas Oratorio, and b) singing one of the solo movements in the Vivaldi Gloria.
First let me tell you about responsibility a). I love conducting way too much. So I was pretty psyched when our director, who is a trumpet player, asked me to conduct so that he could play. This piece was scored for strings, trumpet, and baritone soloist, and in typical J.S. Bach fashion, had so much syncopation that I had to restrain myself from dancing off the podium. I was completely unfamiliar with the piece, though, so it was a little challenging for me to follow the soloist’s tempo changes in the sections where the singer can be more free. Also, I’m not as adept at directing an orchestra, which requires a baton. (In choral conducting, you just use your hands.) But I was still excited about dusting off my trusty Mollard baton and waving it at some instrumentalists.
And then, as I was exiting my car right before the concert, this happened:
Oh, my dear, beloved, beautiful, faithful, Curly Maple Mollard baton.
You carried me through college and six years as a music teacher. I remember well the day I met you. For years, I had passed the Mollard booth every January at the National Association for Music Educator’s convention and had considered buying one. And then, as a college freshman music education major, the time had finally come. I had waited all year to return to the baton booth to hand-select one that would fit me perfectly. I tried out so many that day, but you, my dear Curly Maple Mollard, called my name. We were instant friends. I toted you to and from rehearsal for years. Could you ever forget the first time that you helped me conduct Handel’s Messiah? I was nervous and shaky all over, but you, dear Mollard, remained firm and straight. I am so sorry that you had to perish in such an ignoble act of clumsiness on my part…would that I had paid the extra $8 for a carbon fiber shaft! You shall remain close to my heart forever.
The passing of my dearly beloved Curly Maple Mollard signified the end of an era in my life. I immediately assumed I would replace it, until I contemplated how often I actually would require my own baton in the years to come. And in researching current prices, I realized that with the same amount of money, I could buy those two Bumgenius 4.0 cloth diapers that I really wanted. A new baton? Or more diapers?
It’s finally hitting me that my life is completely, completely different.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Okay, enough mourning over my deceased baton. (In case you’re wondering, I was able to borrow one from our choir director, and I conducted the Bach imperfectly, but with great enthusiasm.) On to a discussion of the second of my two responsibilities at Sunday’s concert. That is, singing one of the solo movements in the Vivaldi Gloria.
I am not an opera singer.
That look says, “Heh, heh, here I am pretending to sing an aria! But I’d really rather be hiding behind the piano, belting out some Hillsong!”
I have a bachelor’s of music degree, but it’s in music education, with piano as my principal instrument. I can sing well enough to teach choir and try my hand at pop and contemporary music, but I don’t have that full, resonant, LOUD quality that makes it obvious when a pro takes the stage. I was honored that our director asked me to sing one of the solos, since we were paying professional singers from Florida Grand Opera to come and do some of the other solos, but it’s kind of intimidating to be in a situation when I’m compared with people who are really trained in that genre. Like our amazing local soprano celebrity, CJ, who makes the floodgates of heaven pour out upon the audience each time she opens her mouth. She is brilliant and beautiful and we are so lucky to have her in our little choir when she’s not touring the world as a colouratura.
That look says, “Here I am singing an aria that I was BORN to sing!”
So I did a bit of praying on my own before the concert. (I had to sneak in a feeding just minutes before we had to be on stage, so I had the perfect quiet space and time to spend with God as Julia was guzzling down her dinner.) I prayed that God would help me sing my aria better than I had ever sung it before, and that He would turn my unworthy vessel into something beautiful that could glorify Him in a special way.
I remember the first time I prayed that prayer! I was a fifth grader, and I had a little role in the school Christmas play.
My part involved a bunch of lines, and a solo near the end of the show. We had rehearsed for months and months and when the night came, all of a sudden, my voice was gone. I must have been getting a cold or something, because within hours of the opening curtain, the only thing coming out of my vocal folds was a squeak! The butterflies in my stomach regressed into squirmy worms, and when I thought life couldn’t get any worse, my wireless lapel microphone stopped working halfway through scene three. I was putting everything I had within me to yell out my lines, unamplified, into the 1500-seat auditorium, but all that came out was raspy croaking. I was heartbroken – the fake tears I was supposed to shed in scene six were real tears that night. And all I could think about was my solo at the end of the show. During one of the last scene changes, I remember praying with all of my heart, “Lord, please, please let my voice come back for my solo.” The time came, somebody gave me a handheld mic that worked, the intro started, and as I started singing, I remember realizing in amazement that God had answered my prayer. My voice was working. His strength had been made perfect in my weakness.
And again last night, God’s strength was made perfect in my weakness when it came to singing. Because even though my post-pregnancy belly could have used some additional abdominal support, and even though the harpsichord was off by three beats at the beginning, and even though my heartbeat was probably triple the tempo of the song, I suddenly remembered what I was singing:
“Domine Deus, Rex Coelestis, Deus Pater Omnipotens. Lord God, King of Heaven, God the Father Almighty.”
God the Father Almighty.
Out of all of the musicians who came to perform that night, I’m the one who got to sing about God being a parent.
If that doesn’t bring a smile to this little mama’s heart, I don’t know what does! How amazing it is that God lets us mere mortals experience a taste of what He is like when we get to be mothers and fathers of these little children that He loans to us. And what a blessing it is to me that as I love, hold, care for, and comfort little Julia, I can remember that God is a parent, too.
Maybe I sang well, maybe I didn’t, but I sure was filled with inexplicable joy on Sunday night. Glory to God in the Highest!