We attended a singalong at our church tonight. Our church, which we joined a couple years ago, is part of a mainline Protestant denomination; like many such churches a sizeable portion of the congregation is aging. By hosting the singalong, I think the hope was to give pleasure to those parishioners who wanted to sing the "old favorites," while introducing a few of the newer hymns to the congregation.
I attended church rarely as a child, so I was pretty much an open book when my wife and I starting looking for churches to join. Besides such elevated things as "spiritual fit" and such practical things as "child care," I think I subconsciously wanted a church with a strong music program, singing hymns. Not praise bands, which I just cannot get into, but the old stuff. As a person who had a few years of organ lessons in my youth, I guess I have a deep-seated predilection for Bach. And the church we eventually joined definitely had a strong music program. A good choir and music director, a good organist, even the occasional bell choir performance. And no praise band.
The problem is, as someone who's sitting in the pews and not in the choir, there can often be a lot of silence surrounding me. Much like riding a bike you don't forget how to read music once you learn. And so even though I never had any choral training and don't have a "beautiful" voice, I feel like I stand out a bit, just because I'm actually singing. I hoped that many people who don't sing would attend tonight, but I'm not sure how successful it ended up being in that regard.
My other goal in attending was to have my daughter hear a whole bunch of people singing in packs. You see, church is almost the only place people sing together on a regular basis. If you play basketball or softball, you can join any number of city recreational leagues to play with others with similar interests. Scrapbooking? I gather there are parties where people can share their oddly-shaped scissors. Comic books (or, er, graphic novels)? Go to the comics store or even (now) the public library. But singing? Dan Zanes' talk notwithstanding, there's really nothing available for the recreational singer outside of a church setting. I wonder if there will be any church choirs 30 years from now if kids aren't singing on a recreational basis.
My daughter sat patiently through about 45 minutes of hymns she didn't recognize before begging to go to the playground, which we did. (Monkey bars rule, in her eyes.) I think she enjoyed the singalong, though I think she was disappointed that they didn't sing her favorite hymn, "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah," an African-American spiritual which is great for the young'uns because it's a simple melody with simple, repetitive lyrics. I hope she also enjoyed hearing her daddy and all the other adults (and the couple other kids) sing with loud voices and smiles on their faces. She may not like the hymns, but hopefully she'll continue to sing the first verse to "London Bridge Is Falling Down" over and over again.
Elizabeth Mitchell has two or three songs with religious/spiritual background on her two CDs. You can listen to "This Little Light of Mine" and "So Glad I'm Here" at her website. Great stuff, even if you don't care about church.