When Bach wrote organ solos, he knew an organist (probably himself) would be playing it. When Mozart wrote for string quartet, he knew he’d be hearing two violins, a viola, and a cello. For a hundred years, even music written for “orchestra” had a consistent setup, the only real variation being the number of violinists playing first or second.
And then you have church choirs.
You’ve probably been a part of the kind of all-volunteer choir I’m talking about. The kind where there’s a section of altos where one or two actually know the part and the rest “are good followers.” Maybe every man in the group considers himself a baritone, not because he truly is one, but because he can’t hit any low notes or anything higher than a C. Perhaps in your choir, only a few people actually know how to read music, and that’s only because they played clarinet in high school decades ago. Or maybe your accompanist is fourteen years old, and struggles with anything that goes too fast or that has more than one flat or sharp in the key signature.
And it’s not just musical ability. There’s attendance, too. Maybe it’s a regular occurrence to have 13 women and 4 men show up for rehearsal. Or, like a choir I was in several years ago, where regular attendance was a soprano, her daughter, the conductor, and me. I would have gladly sung tenor, but was needed to play the piano since our accompanist made it as often as our alto section. On good days, we’d have four or five singers.
My point is this: there’s no such thing as a church choir. When one person thinks “string quartet” and another person thinks “string quartet,” they’re thinking of the same thing. But “church choir” to one person may mean thirty or forty well-trained and balanced voices, and to another it may mean four octogenarians valiantly struggling to remain standing for the length of the piece.
Luckily for you, and all church choir leaders, accompanists, and singers everywhere, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Because unlike Madrigal choirs, barbershop quartets, or professional choruses, church choirs serve a unique role and perform for a unique audience. Like Psalm 95 says, “O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.” I realize that I’m probably interpreting scripture a little more than the context suggests, but I like to compare singing to joyful noise. The phrase “joyful noise” has always been a comfort to me, knowing that when we’re singing to the Lord, He’s not asking that everything be perfect. Just that we’re joyfully, enthusiastically singing to Him and for Him.
So give thanks for your unpredictable and inconsistent choirs. In my experience, a song sung from the heart and to the Lord, even if it’s by a rag-tag group of untrained voices, can often touch the soul and reach heaven faster than the professionals can.