Yesterday, I stepped up the creaking stairs inside one of the white-steepled churches facing our town common to a balcony overlooking a congregation formed in 1821. Below me, church members waved and nodded to each other, as I suppose they have since women’s skirts swept the floor and men appeared in weskits--doffing their bowler hats. In the years between then and now, the cadences of life have changed, but the powerful rhythms that swell in response to good music never will.
It’s not my church, although on occasion I’ve had reason to visit, to reflect on the history contained in spare white walls embellished with the clean lines of colonial wainscoting, to gaze in envy at the fenced choir loft climbing up behind the minister’s pulpit.
I haven’t used my own voice in a serious capacity since I was in high school, but to my daughter’s horror, that doesn’t restrain me from letting the vocal chords fly at odd moments. In that regard, back in November, a member of this congregation caught me bellowing a tune while washing dishes at my volunteer gig. Looking for additional singers, he issued an invitation to attend rehearsals and join their choir at their annual Christmas concert. Oh, how the thought of standing with a group in front of a crowd once again, of paging through sheet music while breathing deep, exhaling and striving for the precise bell-tone appealed. It’s been so long.
After thirty seconds of consideration though, I realized that the date of the concert conflicted with a family Christmas celebration out of town, so I declined. I was unaware until last week, that the snow storm that pummeled us on December 20th, causing our teeth-clenching ride down the highway from parts west, had resulted in a postponement of this performance closer to home.
Yesterday was the make-up day, and if you ever have a chance to attend a holiday concert in the middle of January, I recommend it. Rather than posing with half an ear tuned to the music while categorizing the tail-end of a December to-do list, I simply sat while a stunning blend of acoustics--violins, a cello, two trumpets and a gifted choir, merged through Handel, Bach and fresh renditions of traditional carols that flowed like a river through me. For that’s what music does, it surges into your fingertips, to your elbows, through your eyes and mouth; it travels in your veins until it lifts you, on a cloud of sensation that’s spiritual regardless of your religious leanings, that bubbles up in spite of your beliefs.
If you don’t sing, or play an instrument, it may be news to you that music is feeling. Think of the times that you tap your fingers to the car radio, when you break into a dance while listening to your I-pod, or when the song on the elevator as you rode to the top floor repeats itself in your brain. Consider the melody that conjures up a memory, bringing tears to your eyes or causing you to grin and walk faster.
Good music, by the purity of it, wings with emotion that lifts and hangs on the air like clean sheets suspended in the wind. It stretches soft fingers and touches, physically, the same way love and hurt, grief and happiness do, reaching the core of you where it blossoms with a nourishing passion.
When the voices were silent, I wiped my eyes and blew my nose, recognizing that the postponement of the concert was one of the best presents I received this holiday season. True, I didn’t use my own voice yesterday, but inside I'm still singing.