Updated: Jan 12, 2020
I sing because my soul needs it. That is the plain and simple truth. Some people mark the passage of time by the hushed magic of the first snowfall, the warm spring torrents, the playful flickering of fireflies on a balmy July evening, or the dance of flaming leaves in the crisp autumn wind. For me, each season is marked by a continual cycle of rehearsals, performances, lessons, tours, recitals, auditions, and many tranquil hours in the practice room. I learned to sing before I could talk and I have always been happiest when performing. The beauty of vocal music stems from the fact that the singers, whether alone or in a group, ultimately tell a story through music. Music adds new meaning and power to our words, allowing them to strike the core of our being and bring deeply-buried thoughts and feelings to the surface. Even on my most miserable days, I have still found freedom, solace, and empowerment in the art of musical storytelling. From my childhood performances, to my days as a music major, to my current life as a fourth-year medical student, I have always been compelled to sing.
I joined the Atlanta Master Chorale in 2016—the same year that I graduated from college and started medical school. People often ask me how I find the time to sing amidst the erratic schedules, brutal hours, backbreaking labor, constant barrage of examinations, and numerous other tasks that accompany the weighty responsibility of learning to care for human life. My answer is always the same: “I make time for singing, because my soul needs it.” While it is true that singing often provides a welcome respite from the world of white coats, stethoscopes, thick textbooks, and beeping monitors, being a part of the Atlanta Master Chorale is so much more than a “fun hobby” or a “creative outlet.” Singing with the Atlanta Master Chorale gives me strength and hope when I am so physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted that I can barely form a coherent thought at the end of a long shift. It helps me come to terms with the suffering that I witness every day, and allows me to keep pushing forward with compassion, despite the fact that not every problem can be cured and not every life can be saved. Every song is musical poetry—a lovingly crafted work of art born from a shared human experience. Whether it was penned on parchment in the sixteenth century, or composed on a computer two weeks ago, each song embodies the spirits of people who know what it means to rejoice, to weep, to rage, to question, to marvel, and to hope—people whose music gives us permission to do the same:
“I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining.” “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” “Speak to our souls of love that never alters; speak to our hearts by fear and pain abused.” “Ain’t no man is gonna bury me. Ain’t no serpent gonna trick me. Ain’t no grave can hold my body down!” “Out of the deep have I cried unto Thee, O Lord; Lord, here my voice.” “Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue.” “Now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened.” “I’d rise superior to my pain, with joy outstrip the wind.”
In singing, we find kindred spirits in a world marked by division, and we realize that we are not alone.
After our Spirit Songs concert last year, one of my medical school friends who was in attendance, described the experience as an unexpected gift—a form of spiritual nourishment that she did not even realize she was missing. This is what we strive for every week in the Atlanta Master Chorale—to create a transformative space “where music touches spirit.” Our success as a choir is not solely based on the individual talents of every singer in the group, or the exquisite musicality with which we execute each piece. Rather, it is our collective heart, and our ability to enrich the lives of others through music, that sets us apart. Every week, we come together as a group of completely different, uniquely gifted singers and despite all the stressors and challenges in our own lives, we “roll up our sleeves” and dedicate ourselves to the task of creating beauty in a chaotic world. We aim to be “routinely extraordinary,” as our director, Dr. Eric Nelson, often says. From the first note to the final bow, our singing is a labor of love. As we pour our collective spirit into the music, I believe that we add a little light to a world that is so often enshrouded in darkness. We take the freedom, solace, and empowerment that we find in singing, and we share it with our audiences—healing wounds long deadened by cynicism and resignation, replacing discord with unity, transforming strangers into family, and linking spirits in a way that only music really can.