I love singing hymns. I loving singing my heart out singing hymns.
I used to have a 1966 Austin 1100 which was 22 years old when I was its custodian. The whirr of the engine and the slight vibration of the rusty floorboards were perfect for singing on the half-hour journey to work and back every day. Every car I have had since has been a disappointment. No engine since has quite matched the natural range of my alto voice.
I do not have a remarkable voice. I have a voice which is good enough to sing in a Church choir. I do not do solos (unless you count my efforts in my favourite vehicle) and I have never been anywhere near a karaoke bar. Only my sister would be rude enough to say, “Just as well”.
About a year ago, and a full 25 years after I had last sung in a choir of any sort, I joined the “youth choir” at the local Church I attend. It is labelled youthful because it counts among its members a bunch of very wriggly, giggly girls about nine or ten years’ old. Of the adults, I am far and away the oldest at 48, and purposely made a joke about this at my expense at the second practice I attended.
The choir is a lively bunch and I like being with other people who like singing. Some of them have incredibly good voices which ring out clear and true from the upstairs gallery over row upon row of empty pews during practice. Choir practice itself is a very relaxed affair, and very far removed from the rigid English discipline I was raised on.
This does not matter as much as I thought it did. The youth choir has just led the congregation in the Church’s main event of the year – outside of Christmas and Easter – and everyone including the choristers was thoroughly uplifted by the experience.
Despite the heavy hand of discipline in my own youth and school days, we did have the occasional bit of light relief.
All Saints’ Day fell on a Sunday in 1981. The school chapel choir, which had an excellent reputation, had been invited to sing the opening processional hymn, “For all the Saints” at the Service to be held in the Anglican Cathedral in Harare. With a total of eleven verses, the hymn was an ideal match for the long aisle.
The Head of Music at our school was both devoted and disciplined. She was kind, too, but this was not immediately apparent. Her dedication to instilling the mastery of musical excellence in all her pupils prevailed. She was widely regarded as the very embodiment of spinsterhood, to which I certainly did not aspire.
In preparation for All Saints’ Day, I remember Miss Tra-la (not her real name) emphasising that clear enunciation was all the more important in this Church of high vaults and echoing nooks and crannies. I also remember with fondness our practising the slow processional march, with one foot pausing for one musical beat as it passed the other on every given step.
Miss Tra-la demanded from us precision, thoroughness, and excellence in action which she herself so readily embraced with an aura of moral rectitude which I admired but never quite managed to grasp
It was the end of October in the middle of Africa; no rains yet. Sunday, 1st November ’81 (as we used once to write the date) promised to be a scorcher. At the end our last practice before this important event, our spinster Choir Mistress reminded us that we had to be sure to wear our ankle-length, rust-brown surplices for the service, and concluded by saying, “…and you may wear as little as you like underneath”. Angelic smiles, we had.