We had our teacher training here at the Palo Alto church this morning. There were 25 people present, and at one point, partly as an experiment, I taught the group a simple Zulu song, “Thula” (available in The Folk Choir Song Book). I am neither a trained choir director nor a particularly good musician. Our group today had some people who are good singers, but most of the group probably only sings at karaoke and campfires. Yet in five minutes, I had the whole group singing in three-part harmony. We sounded fabulous.
Some of us were talking about this after the training. We agreed that society at large trains us to understand ourselves as consumers of music product. We do not have the sense that participating in music is a normal part of human life. And even our churches have become places where the music is produced only by professionals (and trained amateurs), while the majority of us have become passive consumers of music. We don’t even have church karaoke, for Pete’s sake.
Mostly, I think — at least mostly in Unitarian Universalist congregations — no one takes the time to really teach congregations how to sing. We let the professionals do the music for us, or we let the trained amateurs sing for us, and we sing limply along on the hymns (hymns which are rarely in keys suitable for our untrained voices). Sometimes the music professionals do things like offering hymn sings before the worship service, which increases the volume a little bit but does not make the congregation sound fabulous. Sometimes the ministers choose hymns which are fun to sing, rather than choosing hymns where the words fit the theme of the sermon, but still the congregation doesn’t sound as fabulous as they could.
Singing harmony in a large group can cause beneficial physiological changes in people; it can induce transcendent experiences; it can cause little children to dance and sway in time to the music. Why do we settle for anything less than singing so we sound fabulous?