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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Best to be Singing: Annual Choir Service

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Ken Redd, Worship Associate PBUUC Choir with Mark Zimmerman, Guest Conductor, and Yee Von Ng, Guest Pianist


Best to Be Singing

A reflection offered for the Annual Choir Service

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

June 3, 2012

“It’s best to be singing in difficult times,” the choir sang for the prelude. It’s best to be singing in difficult times. Or dancing. Or knitting, hammering, jogging, biking, painting, dancing, birding, meditating, playing an instrument, sawing, chopping, praying, weeding, planting, harvesting, walking, listening, looking …

Almost anything that requires both mental focus and physical effort is an aid in difficult times.

It’s not surprising that our Music Director, David Chapman, chose this song for the choir to learn for today’s Choir Service. He’s been having his own difficult times, for health reasons I won’t recount now, except that he’s been unable to do the work he loves – teaching others to sing – since March 4th or earlier.

And I don’t know if he’s literally been singing through his difficult times. But I do know, from many visits with him these last months, that his spirit still sings.

It’s best to be singing in difficult times. Or dancing. Or knitting, hammering, jogging, you get the idea. Even mowing. Preferably without the assistance of an engine, if you’re young enough or your lawn small enough. But, a radio talk show host, on National Public Radio, was heard to say, “Everyone thinks I’m crazy not to get a sit-down mower. Let me tell you why I keep my small power mower. First, it uses less gas, but really it’s because when I am walking behind my old lawn mower, I am in a different space. For some reason I just feel different – quiet, peaceful – and I like it.”

His interviewee was David Kundtz, author of Quiet Mind:  One-Minute Retreats from a Busy World, who went on to comment, “Walking along behind his lawn mower is his time of serenity, his quiet time – yes, even with the lawn mower’s racket – his time for himself, and his over-busy life does not allow for much of it.” (p.83-4)

I wouldn’t equate mowing with singing…  but any activity which focuses our senses and requires physical effort uses up our brainpower on something other than the chatter of our brains - new worries, the old tapes, and endless things we ought to do.

I’m no neurologist, but here’s how I think it works. When we are singing, dancing, baking, hammering, mowing…  the brain is fully engaged, taking in information from our senses and directing our body’s actions, and doesn’t have the spare parts (neurons or whatever) required for worrying. So that’s why we feel better after those activities. Of course, at certain points, our difficult times necessitate our full attention… but we know it to be true that having been singing, dancing, baking, hammering, mowing… grounds us so that we make the best possible decisions and take the most right actions in regard to our difficult times.

It used to be that there was a glow of light in the Meeting House most days when I left work, whether at dinnertime or after an evening meeting. Inside, David would be giving a lesson or sitting alone at the piano, practicing. Sometimes he would see me and we would wave to each other, and less often I would go in so we could talk, but always I felt a sense of assurance from the warmth of his presence and what I knew was beautiful music-making inside. But in the last three months, I’ve been struck by the dark and silence as I’ve passed by on the deck to the parking lot.

Except for Thursday nights, when the lights have been on, for choir rehearsals, without David.  The choir has been ably and generously conducted by a series of volunteers from among us and among his UU musician colleagues (culminating today with Mark Zimmerman, Music Director of the Mt Vernon UU Church in Alexandria, who is the one who helped me recruit and schedule the colleagues, to whom I am ever grateful). And, I’ve found myself joining them, showing up, not for the whole rehearsal but for warm-ups and then to give them an update on David before their rehearsal starts. I started doing it for them, because I knew they missed him, but it wasn’t long before I was also doing it for myself – to share a time of mutual caring for him, and hold him in our hearts or whatever version of praying we each might do, and just be in the company of others who love him.

The lack of consistency in direction has been challenging for some of our singers and they stopped coming to rehearsals. But most have continued to sing, perhaps out of loyalty to David, or because they know it’s best to be singing in difficult times, or because they just love choir. And as you can already tell, they still sound great.

 We have all sorely missed David, are thrilled that he is here this morning, and look forward to his return to work when he is well.

In the meantime, may he be singing in his difficult times.

Indeed, may we all be singing!

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