“Celebrate differences” is something we hear a lot in our current culture. Yet, we often find ourselves asking, “How do I do that?” and “What does that actually mean?” In our time of rapid news feeds and constant swiping, it is easy to live by 140-character statuses and catch phrases. It is easy to say a thing, but much harder to actually do it.
It might seem strange, but choir–especially community choir–has provided the structure by which I can begin answering that question: “How do I DO that?” Each week during our concert season, 54 people from all over the city of Atlanta come together to rehearse and attempt to figure out how we can best “celebrate our differences” so that the result will be something beautiful. Our group varies in so many ways: age, backgrounds, neighborhoods, styles of singing–you name it! On a deeper level, we come from different seasons of life–some of celebration, some of deep sadness. But we still come together, and we enter into a process. We enter into a weekly routine that causes gaps between us to bump up against one another until we figure out how they fit. A typical Atlanta Master Chorale rehearsal is a testing ground for the question: “Can we actually make our differences work together?”
Well, the answer is a resounding “YES, we can! And it is wonderful when we do!” But it’s not easy, and it’s not quick. We may sing, tweak and rework a passage over and over in one rehearsal, or even over the course of weeks before we start to get the sound the music and the composer demand. This is because we are integrating so much–the notes and rhythms of the piece; the composer’s intentions; the cues and overall vision for the music given by our conductor; our own vocal skill set; and our own vocal challenges. It takes time, and it takes care to bring these components together. But when we do, it is all worth it because now instead of having 54 competing voices, we’ve created a new thing. It’s a sound that is solid and balanced, yet it moves and flows. It’s a sound that picks up a single melody or voice part and then joyfully hands it off to be part of the whole again. It’s the sound of 54 people conveying the same message in one voice. In Atlanta Master Chorale, we “celebrate our differences” by working together to become the kinds of individuals who have joy and delight in the sound of others; always listening for how our own voices can add to the beauty of the whole.
On the way home from practice one Tuesday evening, I was thinking of our upcoming concert and the concept of Double Take–the same text sung twice, but in different settings by different composers. I initially thought this would be very interesting, and it has been. However, it hit me that the concert it is very much a celebration of different things. Humans write music to put into structure ideas and feelings which seem inexpressible as spoken word, yet those same words come together to inspire many widely differing variations of sound and song. Through rehearsing these songs side by side, I have found myself having a greater understanding and appreciation for the text after singing it from two different perspectives.
This past Tuesday, Dr. Nelson closed rehearsal with comments I’m sure made us all go home and think a while. He spoke of the tragedies recently occurring in our nation–the way things are just not as they should be. We often feel helpless to know what to do. Yet, we’ve learned in choir that things don’t always have easy answers–they must be worked through in a process, and people must be willing to celebrate other voices. Dr. Nelson encouraged us to be something like a small trickle of beauty. Atlanta Master Chorale is only a small patch of beauty in a big world, yet trickling streams of beauty gather together to become great rivers that give life to everything around them. This happens when our differences are not merely set aside but joined together into something people want to hear. In our upcoming concert, as we sing differing settings of texts you know from poetry, prayers, laments, and songs of joy, we hope we will be a small trickle of beauty that contributes to a greater stream down the path.