Around October, 2004, I decided that I needed to find a choir to join. In my mind, this meant finding a church. Over the next few months, I attended a number of different churches, hoping to find both a choir and a warm and welcoming community. There was only one church that I re-visited for a second time, and then a third. All three times, I saw the church’s Contemporary Group, which sings the earlier Sunday Mass. The group sounded like what I expected from a small church music group. There were a couple of people who sang well, but overall, it honestly wasn’t all that great. But that wasn’t a drawback for me. I knew that I could carry a tune, but that was all the confidence I had in my voice. I loved to sing as far back as I could remember, but always considered myself average, at best. So a not-so-great group meant that I wouldn’t feel like I wasn’t good enough.
I remember when I finally had the courage to approach the director about singing in the choir. It was December 19, 2004. I told him i wanted to join the Contemporary Group. He looked at me with surprise and asked, “The Contemporary Group? Are you sure?” Then he asked me if I had a chance to hear the regular Adult Choir. I had not. So he asked me about my plans for Christmas and said the Adult Choir was singing Christmas Eve. He asked me to listen to them, and then make my decision.
A few nights later, I saw the Adult Choir for the first time. I was amazed, to put it mildly. Never had I heard such music from a church choir (except the Chapel Choir when I was in college). Their final prelude song was Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, and I found myself wanting to join in from my seat. This was the type of music I was used to singing. But at the same time, I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to sing in a group like that. I suspect the director thought I changed my mind when I disappeared for the next two Sundays, but I was torn between joining a group that only sounded okay, and one that sounded divine. I debated where I would feel the most comfortable. I debated what time I really wanted to go to church, since each group sang at a designated Mass. Finally, I opted for the less intimidating of the two groups, and officially joined the Contemporary Group in January, 2005.
Eventually, I ended up singing in both groups, but it was a long and twisting road to get there. The first few times I sang with the Adult Choir, I felt like I wasn’t really needed, and that it didn’t matter if I was there or not. It didn’t matter that I had started getting solos in the Contemporary Group. In my mind, I was still that awkward 8th grader who butchered her song during the school talent show. It was years before I stopped physically shaking whenever I sang by myself.
It was my director who believed in me long before I believed in myself. From that very first solo in the Contemporary Group (given to me at my second rehearsal, which I was later told was a new record), to standing on the altar to lead the congregation during Christmas Eve and Easter Vigil, to the handful of Sundays when I was the only first soprano in the larger choir, it was my director who had faith in me and gave me so many chances to learn to have that same faith in myself.
Today, almost ten years later, I said goodbye to my director, as he moves on to his next adventure. I know it’s the best thing for him, but I still feel like a small piece of me died today. So much of who I am today was shaped by my time in the choir. So much of my identity is tied up in belonging to those two groups. At the same time, my director became one of my best friends and partners in crime. We reached a point where we could look at each other during Mass and have entire conversations without. I know that the Choir and the Contemporary Group will continue under new direction, but I’m not sure if I can continue with them. It’s true that the only certainty in life is change, but so much of what the choir means to me is tied up into the faith and the confidence my director gave me. The idea of continuing in his absence feels empty and hollow. The music might still be there, but it feels like the heart behind it is gone.
As I prepare to turn the page to the next chapter, I remain undecided about my future and where it will lead me. I continue to pray that as I was ten years ago, I am led to the place where I belong.