Where our daughter and son-in-law first lived in Haiti, a little town called Fond des Blanc, nightfall emptied the lanes and marketplace and sent the people to shelter. There were no streetlights and no electricity outside the clinic and the convent. Darkness meant a kind of blindness the townspeople had learned to avoid.
So Elisabeth and Corey would climb to the roof of their house at night and sing. She sings the melody and he the harmony. Soon, they began to hear answering voices, as others sang to them, and with them, in the darkness.
They never knew all the people who joined them in nightly chorus, but the numbers grew.
When we retire to our houses . . . we huddle around televisions and computers and iPads, watching others sing. Observing.
Last November, Corey proposed that we learn some carols we could sing in harmony at Christmas. Now, we are not the von Trapps. No one would ever ask us to represent the country at a musical festival, and if we did do so and did escape the Nazis by walking over the border, warbling all the while, our sound would be more “kvetching” than “caroling.”
My husband can’t, as my mother would say, “carry a tune in a bucket.” I can carry near a tune, but I’m always a half step flat. And, the flatter I sing, the louder I get, as if volume alone will brighten my tone.
But Elisabeth promised to make homemade cinnamon rolls and our daughters can sing and Corey promised to help us, so, on first Saturday in December we gathered at their house and started with “Lo, How a Rose e’re Blooming.”
Lo, how, indeed.
The altos (my part) have a tricky rhythm right in the first line. On “from tender stem hath sprung,” the sopranos get, not only the familiar melody, but a regular old “half note, quarter note, half note, half note, quarter note, half note” rhythm.
The sopranos can sing and eat a cinnamon roll at the same time without much trouble.
Altos get an unfamiliar part plus a “half note, half note, dotted quarter note, eighth note, half note, half note” rhythm that keeps us tapping our feet and slapping our thighs and bobbing our heads, all in a (still) futile attempt to hit the notes and the beats.
We have to concentrate.
Singing friends joined us, as did Corey’s parents and brother, Jeff. They acted the part of musical medics, tending to the wounded and getting them to safety. Jeff saw, and heard, me struggling to get from “D” up to “G” in “As With Gladness Men of Old,” and told me to keep the first two notes of “Here Comes the Bride” in mind.
And if I can ever past the point of stopping to hum “Here Comes the Bride” before I sing, “As with joy they hailed its light,” I will have Jeff alone to thank.
Mind you, I’m not complaining. “As With Gladness Men of Old” has four glorious measures in which the altos sing just one note, over and over again.
By the second Sunday, we had broadened our repertoire to include two rounds, with an eye towards “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” and “Angels From the Realms of Glory.”
As I write this, on Monday of the second week of Advent, I glance forward in our packet and see that Corey has included the motet, “Dixit Maria,” by Hans Leo Hassler, but I’m pretty sure he will wisely let that one go.
There is hope, and there is hallucination.
As rough as we sound, it’s been great fun singing together. The psalmist’s phrases, “make a joyful noise,” and “shout joyfully to God,” have new meaning for me this season.
And the singing isn’t the only joyful noise. It’s in the gathering. It’s in the welcome and the conversation. It’s in the food. It’s in the children running in and out, filching rolls and reporting on the hitters and the hit and who won’t share (and there’s always someone who won’t share.)
It’s in the sense of doing the good work, rather watching someone else do it. It’s in the listening and the effort to keep time and tone and breath, together.
Haiti’s darkness is different from our own. Our darkness is lit, neon and mercury vapor and LED, but the illumination fails to penetrate. When we retire to our houses, we are sealed away like villagers fearing unseen dangers. We huddle around televisions and computers and iPads, watching others sing. Observing.
David is forever exhorting Israel to sing. Sing God’s praise; sing God’s marvelous deeds. Sing the stories of God. Sing laments to God; sing pleas for mercy.
David doesn’t encourage Israel to be a good audience. David encourages Israel to go up on the rooftops, and sing. Perhaps others will join in.
Perhaps there will be light in the darkness.
– Melissa Musick