I recently heard a friend say that the pandemic had hit the “reset” button on certain aspects of their life and that as a result, in some areas they feel they are having to start from scratch. This resonates with me a bit when I think about our St. Luke’s music program, particularly our choirs. Almost exactly two years ago on a Wednesday evening, our normal music activities came to a screeching halt. Several adult choir members and I were gathered in the music room in Johnson Hall getting ready for rehearsal when my cellphone rang. It was someone from the newly-formed Covid committee that was calling from their meeting in the Kramer Room (“the what committee?” I remember thinking at the time). They told me to cancel choir practice and that we were all to leave the premises immediately. And that was that! Some choir members haven’t set foot in the music room or seen their choir folders since that night.
Now, here we are in 2022, and two weeks ago we were finally able to start regular choir rehearsals again! It was wonderful to be together and to hear the familiar and dear voices that I know will soon be sharing their song with the St. Luke’s congregation once again. And yet, I can’t help but feel a little like we are starting from scratch. Even though I know we are not.
Before the pandemic hit, in addition to singing every Sunday morning, our choir had been working for months preparing for a Choral Evensong they were going to be singing at St. Luke’s with an Early Music choral ensemble from Duke. That event, of course, was canceled. On Christmas Eve, the choir had sung the lion’s share of a thirty-minute musical prelude, something they have done annually for well over a decade. In recent years the choir has participated in other Choral Evensongs and extra services and musical events including the very special 2017 New Acoustics and Organ Dedication Service at St. Luke’s – there were 35 adults and children in the choir that night!
Suffice it to say, our pre-pandemic St. Luke’s choir was active, dedicated, and willing to go beyond their weekly choir commitment which in itself is no small thing. Except during the summer, choir members committed to two rehearsals (Wednesdays and Sundays) and the Sunday service, a total of about four hours every week. Four hours every week. To me, that is a wonderful example of love in action. I am always inspired and challenged by the constancy of these folks who show up faithfully despite fatigue, personal or family struggles, work stress, bad weather, or even just that moment of longing to turn off the alarm on a Sunday morning after an especially tiring week at work.
Fast-forward to now. We’ve been apart for nearly two years, not singing together, some of us hardly singing at all. But choir members are now happily rehearsing, getting ready to sing in services again. The last time the choir sang in a service was March 8, 2020, the Second Sunday of Lent (or more commonly known in church music circles, The Last Sunday the Choir and Organist Went to Church For Awhile).
What will it be like when the St. Luke’s choir comes back on Sundays? Here are some things I know: You will see the choir in procession. You’ll see familiar faces, or at least the top halves of those faces above their masks. You may notice it’s a smaller group than it was before the pandemic, because not everyone is ready to sing yet. You’ll hear a corps of familiar voices joining with your voices as we sing hymns and worship together.
Most Sundays the choir will sing a choral anthem during the service as we did in the past. Those anthems will be simpler, at least for now. Most of the anthems in our St. Luke’s choral library (housed in the four large filing cabinets in the music room in Johnson Hall) are voiced for SATB: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass which, simply put, means they are in four-part harmony. Right now we don’t have the voice types or the numbers to cover all four parts, so we will be singing anthems that are in 2-3 parts, rounds, or even just unison. (Hint, hint…we could really use some tenors and basses!)
Yes, the “reset” button was hit – and we’ll be okay. There will be time to re-strengthen and expand our adult (and children’s) choir. “Reset” can also mean a fresh start; for example: with our doing simpler music right now, are there folks out there who would be brave enough to try choir for the first time?
Once the choir begins participating in services again, we will be there every week. Even if there are Sundays the group is quite small, we will take part as a choir by vesting, processing, and singing hymns with you from the choir loft. I believe what is important now is not how many singers we have up front, or how snazzy the music is, or even (gulp) whether we sound that great. What is important is that we are present with you, the congregation, offering our hearts and voices, as we all worship together.