Saturday, March 16, 2013

Joyful Noise

A Psalm of thanksgiving. Shout unto the LORD, all the earth. Serve the LORD with gladness; come before His presence with singing.
The Torah

[A Psalme of praise.] Make a ioyfull noise vnto the Lord, all ye lands.
1611 King James Bible

A Psalm for the thank offering. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the lands! 2 Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! 
Revised Standard Version

Last month, I wrapped up another Creatavita project, directing the Purim Spiel at Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, PA.

What is a Purim Spiel, you ask? Well, Purim is a Jewish holiday which celebrates the Jewish people of Ancient Persia being saved from destruction by Ester. Spiel is the Yiddish word for “play”, so a Purim Spiel is a play in which the Purim story is told. And what a riot it can be. In the Purim Spiels I've experienced, nothing is sacred – the bad guy is booed, jokes are made about the culture and even religious rituals are in for respectful teasing.

For a United Methodist from the Upper Midwest, this is still an amazing cultural experience. I'm filled with admiration as I watch my Jewish friends celebrate this holiday with boisterous and joyous worship. While we were rehearsing, my cast of joyful amateurs made me feel like I was herding cats at times, but they were cats that were having a wonderful time, all in the name of their faith. There's a lot to be learned in that.

And then there were the performances. Everyone is encouraged to wear a silly costume (you haven't lived until you've seen a rabbi wearing giant green glasses or a cantor dressed like a clown). When you enter the sanctuary, you are handed a noisemaker, which you use every time you hear the name of the bad guy, Haman. All in the name of worship. Here's a photo of the cast of The Megillah According to Broadway:

Contrast this experience with a conversation that I have on a regular basis with many of my private voice students which revolves around their experiences in their church choirs or as cantors in the Christian church. The conversation usually starts with “well, I was told I was too loud again last Sunday”.

Now before we go any further, let me state very clearly (but not loudly) that I am not advocating poor vocal technique. You've got to learn to master your instrument. Not Tom who's standing next to you singing flat or Mary behind you who has a big, well, let's be nice and call it a vibrato.

People expend all kinds of energy holding back their gorgeous talents, all in the name of religion...I guess. Do you really think that is what God intended? As I said to my voice teacher once, “if God didn't want me to sing low notes, why did God give me so many of them?” Then I proceeded to figure it out on my own.

And this is where my admiration for the Jewish faith (at least what I've experienced) is rooted. I've sung in synagogues throughout the Philadelphia area for many years and I can probably count on one hand the number of times any singer has been asked to be “quiet”. Furthermore, the joy and enthusiasm is downright infectious. There's no holding back.

I'd be a completely different singer without these experiences. “Be nice, don't be too loud, don't show off, be humble, don't be better than the person next to you” - these were the lessons of my childhood. So when I first encountered this emotional, as large as life if not a little larger, sing and tone be damned attitude, yes, I was blown away. I also, in a strange way, felt at home for the first time in my spiritual life. Here I wasn't chastised for being loud, for being emotional. Here, people came up to me time and time again to thank me for allowing my voice to express what their voices couldn't express. Here I could be me, in all of the glory given to me by God or whatever you believe in.

And this is what I try, Lord knows I try, to get my students to understand.

You've got to find your vocal self first – ALL of your vocal self. You've got to get to know ALL of your voice. Once you've mastered all of your voice, YOU will be able to choose which parts you are going to use in which situations. A quiet intimate Catholic mass? Yeah, I'm probably not busting out. A raucous Purim Schpiel? You bet I'm clapping and booing and shouting at the top of my lungs.

If you're a person of faith, I would submit for your consideration that NOT doing this work is denying a God-given talent. And we all know what that means. A big ol' no-no. God gives you a talent, you better use it all up right here right now.

And if you're not a singer, what does this have to do with you? Easy.

You've got to find yourself first – ALL of you. You've got to get to know ALL that you have to offer. Once you've mastered all of you, YOU will be able to choose which parts you are going to use in which situations.

Joyful noise. As the Beloved so often says, “The Psalmist says nothing about making perfect, pear-shaped tones.” So go out there and sing. And if you're not a singer, go out there and live.