In 5th grade in my elementary school, you could sign up for band. I had so longed to be able to play the piano, but then was assigned the clarinet. You can imagine my disappointment. My parents would listen to me practice dutifully in my room, the squeaks and squawks emanating from my bedroom so unlike any kind of music they or I had ever heard. They were relieved, I’m sure, when I asked to be switched to the flute. Unfortunately, I was no better at this, and being the practical sort of people that they are, stopped throwing good money after bad, and I did not continue on in band in middle school. I think my parents, and perhaps even the neighbors, were grateful for that.
That year was the same year I became a citizen, and coincidentally (or perhaps not), the theme for our choral show that year was patriotism. We learned The Star Spangled Banner, My Country Tis of Thee, God Bless America, and Yankee Doodle Dandy. Guess who got picked to be the Yankee Doodle Dandy? That’s right, this girl, the one who has to wear a microphone to lecture to her class of less than 20 people, the one who has had to repeat her name so many times at roll call because the substitute teacher #1.Doesn’t know how to pronounce my name, and #2.Can’t hear me saying “Here” the first 3 times she calls my name. At the time, I thought I was being picked for my vocal talents. Although I can carry a tune, I’m sure my selection had more to do with my impending citizenship than with any sort of raw talent.
For a long time after I figured this out, I only sang in church, mainly because I felt God could hear me no matter how quiet I was and could feel how much I loved to sing, and that would be enough. Then one day, I read this quote “He who sings, prays twice,” attributed to St. Augustine.* This feels so true to me, perhaps because my happiest times singing were in church. All of our voices blend together in one beautiful harmony raised in worship. A very good church choir can be transcendent, lifting us up. Even a single voice can do this. I thought of this when I saw a clip of the Sicilian nun, Sister Cristina, on the Voice. Her voice is beautiful, but what struck me most about this clip are the tears in the eyes of one of the judges. At first glance, it seems improbable that this young nun could move a man with tattoos on his throat known for calling people “Dude” to tears, but with her profoundly simple and joyful expression of her faith through her song, she is able to touch him.
Isn’t that all that we long to do as human beings? This is what we want, for ourselves, and for our children to have, this joyful and inspired expression of who we really are, without concern of judgment. There is a popular song in which a mother sings to her children, “I hope you dance.” I would add to that, I hope you sing!
Today I am thankful for all musicians who are able to sing or create music which touches our souls. I am thankful for music teachers who perpetuate the love of music. And I am grateful for my oldest daughter who both sings and teaches piano, and occasionally dances :), my 10 yr old daughter who dances when no one is looking, and for a son who still sings and dances with abandon.
*The actual translation of St. Augustine’s words from Latin, is: “For he who sings praise, does not only praise, but also praises joyfully; he who sings praise, not only sings, but also loves Him whom he is singing about/to/for. There is a praise-filled public proclamation (praedicatio) in the praise of someone who is confessing/acknowledging (God), in the song of the lover (there is) love.” Isn’t this even more beautiful than the popular misquote of St. Augustine?
The link from which this definition came with the actual Latin, because I am a nerd:
The YouTube video in which Sister Cristina is featured (be sure to click on the Closed Caption button which translates it into English, unless you understand Italian):