My Mama Never Told Me I Could Sing!

I grew up in the 50’s which was a long time ago. In those days, you had a PTA meeting every month. PTA stood for Parents and Teachers Association. It was a big deal in the old days. Each month a different class would have the program which was something short [10-15 minutes] and teachers were always looking for saps who would do anything for attention. Long story short, my teacher was desperate and she ask me to sing which I did and received a thunderous ovation. I didn’t realize at the time that adults will clap for a kid who is willing to make a fool out of himself for the sake of his class. Had that ask me once, I could understand but they ask me more than once so I assumed I could sing. Those teachers were using me and they were not my friends. My grandmother allowed me to sing with her: she was actually a talented musician and so again I got the wrong impression. Plus there is the deception of hearing your voice in the shower. I grew up singing in the Youth Choir [30 strong] and eventually sang in the adult choir although I don’t remember anyone begging to do so or even encouraging me. I did sing beside my best friend or so I thought at the time and he could sing. I learned to follow him and he taught me how to sight read.

A couple of years later when God was really dealing with me about preaching: I offered Him the suggestion of calling me to be a music director. We had dismissed our last one for chasing women so I felt that a music man would have more fun and more liberty. Deep down, I knew He was not calling me to sing. After two years at UCLA, I transferred to Athens College, not in Greece, and finished my four year degree at there [Bachelor of Sciene Degree in Religion and Philosophy]. Upon registration at Athens, a professor by the name of Dr. Fowler recruited me for the College Choir. The choir was made up 30 people or so, mostly from the music department. They were good, really good.

Choir_550wI had no desire to sing with this group because they practiced a lot and in those days, I preferred to spend what little time I had in the gym. Dr. Fowler would not let up. It seems like I bumped into him every where I went and he finally talked me into singing because I would get a 2 hour credit. He also promised me a B if I just showed up for practice. They put me in the baritone section next to a bass singer from up North, [I still remember the guys name, it was Eric something or the other] and this dude hit every note. I was not just impressed that he hit the notes, he did it with ease. I don’t think he liked me. He was yankee and a smart alic which is one thing actually but now that I think of it, my voice probably annoyed him or maybe even caused him some pain. He told me I had a good voice but I tore it up getting it out.

gomer-pyle-carterI know you are thinking: what on earth was Dr. Fowler thinking and why would he recruit you? Dr. Fowler got a list of all the new enrollees who were preachers and his theory was that all preachers can sing. Guess what, I blowed his little theory out of the water. It wasn’t that long before he realized he had made an error in judgment but like most people, he was too proud to admit his mistake. One day we were working on a piece of music and he comes running to my section like Sergeant Carter on Gomer Pyle, he got right in my face and said it so that everyone could hear, “I don’t want to hear you. You are not here to be heard. You are here to support the volume of the choir but you are not a soloist and I do not want to hear you above the choir. I got a lot of skin but not that much. He hurt my feeling and so I stopped singing and just started moving my lips. He throws up his hands and throws the Paton and here he comes again. “Do you think that I do not know what you are doing?” He yelled. I said, “Well, you just screamed at me for singing and now you are yelling at me for not singing, what do you want?”. He said, “I want you to sing but not above your section. I want you to give them support but I don’t want you leading.”

Hey, I got the picture: he never heard me sing above the section again but I never tried to fake it again either. I did want him screaming in my face. Let’s face it, music people are different. They are all perfectionist. They get all bent out of shape when you miss a note or two–who cares, no one is perfect….except musicians.

One semester of the College Choir was sufficient for me. We sang sacred music because it was Methodist School but most of the kids drank beer like it was water and I didn’t enjoy their company. I did several local concerts with the choir but when it came time to tour, I came up with a ministerial excuse. I did have to drive to Birmingham and sing that last day of the tour but I was not about to risk having to travel with this bunch. There was no one in the group that I was comfortable rooming with so I dropped out. I know you think I am lying, but Dr. Fowler was not pleased with me dropping out. It was not due to my voice. He just wanted someone to yell at.

Rescue MissionYou’ll never guess what my first Mission Assignment was in Seminary….it was leading the music at the Rescue Mission on Magazine Street in down town New Orleans. It was a room filled with drunks who didn’t want to be there but they had to attend worship in order to get a free breakfast. There were three of us {students} and all were theological students, no musicians. There are so few musicians in Seminary, they get the good jobs. The student with seniority did the preaching, so I was relegated to leading the music. After a couple of weeks, I carried June with me and she played the piano. Within a month both the other students found more pleasant assignments and June and I had the rescue mission all to ourselves for the next 6 months. I lead the singing and did the preaching. Their favorite hymn was “I Come To The Garden Alone.” I don’t know why, but we had to sing it every week.

Long story short: I would still sing to a room full of drunks but no more solos for me in church. I have deacons who would actually heckle me. I am serious. They would hurl insults in my direction. I have not quit singing and don’t intend to but I try not to vex folks with my voice. Had God wanted me to have a perfect voice, He would have given me one but He commands all to make a joyful noise.

{Unedited: to correct errors, email me at jack@danvillebaptist.org}

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