Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Non-Singers in the Choir

When Trillium and I were young married students attending Brigham Young University, we lived in Springville, Utah. The fellow who directed the Church choir taught music at the high school and was one of the most masterful directors I have known throughout my long life. Trillium and I joined the choir along with our friends David and Jennie. I was a tenor in those days and delighted in attempting to live up to our director’s expectations. I sat next to David who, for all of his enthusiasm, was completely tone deaf. He was almost continuously off-key, but he forged ahead with great gusto. David’s clarion call of non-conformity did not go unnoticed by the director and he spent much time working with the tenors so as to get some sort of semblance of correctness from us all. I think that David was oblivious to his lack of talent and I am certain that he wondered who was singing amiss that our leader was spending so much time with us. Oddly enough, by the time we were to perform, David had managed to get within a third or a fifth of where we were all supposed to be and our director had achieve sainthood.

From time to time I have performed with other choirs and ensembles wherein someone was not quite with it. In some cases that fact was strenuously pointed out without mercy and with very little patience. Often the offender would not return after a few sessions. I knew for myself that with some effort, even the most egregiously tone-deaf singer could be whipped into line. I fear that some of these other directors and leaders did not achieve sainthood.

There have been two other talented men who have demonstrated much of the same kind of patience and kindness towards those who would be singers. Years ago I met a fellow in Southern California who had a specialized group called the Grandland Singers. Douglas Brenchley was one of those individuals who had so much enthusiasm for music that no amount of dissonance could wear him out; at least that was the case in my presence. I remember sitting in one of his choirs in the MacKay Building at UVSC when the person announcing the program mentioned Doug by name stating that my friend was capable of making broom handles sing. Being somewhat shaped like a rather stout broom handle I enjoyed the compliment. Doug has since retired from service at UVSC, but he still has occasional opportunities to lead young men and women into rather stellar performances. The notable aspect of his tenure was even though he had a premier choir that one had to audition for, yet there were at least two other choirs that anyone could join and perform in. Everyone who wished to raise their voices was allowed to do so, even though the chandeliers would shake and the fine china would rumble.

In our congregational choir here in Orem I have had the pleasure of being directed by Gordon Jessop, a cousin of Craig Jessop who for a long time directed the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I have watched Gordon closely and can testify as to his patience in attempting to get 35 people all singing off the same sheet of music. No one in my life has been as kind to an offending singer as is Gordon. I rejoice to be in his company. Two of my daughters and one of my grandchildren presently sing in the choir and after the first of the year I will be able to rejoin the group.

I have thought about what I might do if some unthinking soul were to put me in charge of a choir again. I have come up with a solution. Everyone can participate in this system

May we all be as creative and as tender-hearted to the gifted and to those less gifted as those who inspired this program.


Trillium said...

Halleluia! :)

Katscratchme said...


exploga: what a silent monk feels like when no one "gets" him...

Anonymous said...

That was awesome! I think you should do that for the next ward Christmas party!
When I sang with Doug Brenchley, we had a rehearsal and I sang my heart out as hard as I could, doing my little alto part, and then I noticed that everyone was staring at me. Bro. Brenchley smiled and then kindly reminded me that we were supposed to be singing in unison...LOL! It was a good lesson in paying attention.
As far as getting music from a broom handle, there was one unfortunate and extremely loud broom handle I knew who, for all of Bro. Brenchley's efforts, couldn't carry a tune.
I loved singing with Bro. Jessop! My ward currently doesn't even have a choir, so I envy you all!

Rebecca said...

one of my projects this fall is to put together a Christmas program for sacrament in December. I have all the music and words... I have yet to assemble a modest group of singers. An announcement goes in the bulletin this week... :)

Working with the Activity Day Girls and teaching them songs and having them perform in sacrament meeting has been a tremendous learning experience for me. The girls love to sing and sing with great enthusiasm. I often have to remember their little voices are very young and will crack if pushed too hard.

Two of the girls are singing a duet for the primary program this Sunday. Allisa and her friend Deanna. Allisa has a very sweet voice and compliments Deanna's strong voice.

Jen said...