Thursday, February 10, 2011

Of course, you can sing!

It continues to flabbergast me how many people respond to my urgings to sing (whether in the choir, like I'd really prefer, or even just in the congregation during a communion hymn, for instance) with a comment along the lines of "I can't sing" or "My voice is just terrible" or "You wouldn't want to hear me."  It's certainly not a new sentiment, and all church choir directors face it.  Let me try to change your mind (at least a little) with a few arguments:

1. You will never meet a kindergarten-aged child who "can't sing."  They can all write and paint and play kickball like pros too.  It seems that every five-year-old is a Renaissance child with an incredible range of skills.  Where do those skills go?  When do people first learn that they can't do something, especially something so primal and expressive as sing?

2. Some evolutionary biologists claim that singing is closely related to "baby talk."  The pitch of our speaking voice and the melody of lullabies are an important part of the parent-child bond and the development of language in children.  Truly, language is music.  In English, a question will rise in pitch at the end of the sentence.  Singing is thus just an extension of something you do naturally every day.

3. We simply get better at things that we try.  I worked several summers as the music director at a summer stock theatre where some of the actors would come to the first rehearsal and announce they were tone deaf.  Just one week of rehearsals later, they would proudly be singing solo lines in the show's chorus.  (Furthermore, at Bethany, we have such a strong core group of singers that you can rely on them to help lead while you gradually improve and gain confidence.)

All of these arguments were summed up by author Amy Chua (the Yale professor now famous or infamous for her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother).  I heard her give an interview recently in which I was impressed with her charm, wit, and generally easy-going nature - perhaps in contrast to the popular perception of her.  She stressed that while she pushed her daughters to succeed in many areas, it was simply because she knew they could.  She had no time for the argument "I'm no good at math."  Rather than letting them give up, she insisted that with practice and time, her daughters would become good at math.  I'm not going to claim that I back her parenting methods 100%, but that attitude that we can succeed and excel at complicated tasks is an important mind-set.  I hope and pray that it's an attitude that can help jump start the American economy, keep churches and other organizations active and vital, and even motivate a few more people to join the church choir.


  1. i cant imagine her as my mother, id go crazy. but most people do a need a swift kick in the arse to really try something new and get good at it.

  2. In education, there are so many authors who advocate that we always expect the best and never allow people to give up on each other or themselves. I find this to be consistent with a Christian view as well, in that Jesus never gives up on us, so how can we give up on ourselves?