From the Music Ministry (04.01.21)

I’m Not Pavarotti

I realize I am not a great soloist. I have a pleasant enough voice . . . I can sing in tune, keep a beat, and get by when needed to, but in the wide world of vocal artistry my voice is rather average. I would not be chosen to advance on American Idol.

Throughout my musical career, I have been given direction from mentors and teachers helping me understand the nature of my vocal abilities. One such insight came when my high school choral director met with several of his more musically inclined seniors to advise us about realistic options for higher education in the musical arts. A good friend of mine came out of their advisement session and told me she had been encouraged to pursue a vocal performance degree. Naturally, I thought I would be given the same advice since we both had been selected to participate in District Honor Choirs, All-State Choirs, and had received high scores at Solo and Ensemble festivals. However, the advice given to me was I should seek a degree in conducting. When I asked about a possible vocal performance major, my director emphatically encouraged me to go the conducting route.

The second clarification about my natural vocal talents came in my first semester at Shorter College where I was a Music Education major. I had just finished my first voice jury. A jury is a final exam for music students. All semester you work with your private vocal coach preparing several musical selections and then you perform these selections before all the voice faculty and receive a grade from them based on that performance. In this first jury of my undergraduate career, I received a grade of C. I was devastated. In high school I had been selected male lead for all the musicals and I had made it into every choir I had auditioned for. When discussing my pedestrian jury score with my voice instructor, Ms. Phoebe Pomeroy, who studied voice at Universität Mozarteum in Saltzburg, she spoke these severely honest words, “Well, Carey, we consider C to be the average and there are just a lot of average voices out there.” Ouch! Welcome to the real world. I realized I was now a small fish in a big pond.

Why am I telling you all this? It is to relay what truly excites me about music and what I miss most during this pandemic – singing together in worship. For me, a flame was ignited when singing the spiritual, “My God Is a Rock” with 300 other high school singers at an All-State Choir event. I realized that by joining my average voice with lots of other voices, I could be part of something much bigger and more profound than anything I could do by myself.

That’s why I miss singing with you in corporate worship so much. All of us joining together, using whatever singing abilities we have, create a truly unique expression of worship. Congregational singing is a very Baptist experience – everyone is equal before God. On a side note – that is why I get frustrated by praise/worship bands. It’s not the musical style. I’m a fan of folk and classic rock genres. I did come of age in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Rather, it is the ‘we-are-the-performers-and-you-are-the-audience’ nature implicit in this arrangement. Typically, praise/worship bands are so loud it doesn’t matter if anyone in the congregation is singing or not. You can sing with them, you are likely encouraged to sing with them, but there is no way you can sing louder than the sound system or trap set. Your voice really doesn’t add to the overall musical expression.

A long time ago I gained a peace about my average vocal talent and I have come to appreciate what I can do well. Would I like to be able to fill concert halls with my big, dynamic voice bringing the audience to tears and cheers of heart-felt emotion? Sure. But that is not possible with my voice and that is alright. Instead, what I can do and what I have become skilled at is giving guidance to and coaching groups of singers, of all ability levels, to join together and do something bigger and more profound than they could do by themselves. For me, that is the better gift.

I look forward to joining with you and your unique voice in song in our unmasked and indoor worship services just as soon as it is safe to do so.