October 13, 2014

Gift of Choirs

by Karl Nelson, R&S Chair for Community Choirs

nelsonWhen I think of the gifts that choirs have given me, I recall many moments of joy, comfort, fellowship and service. All of these moments have been the ingredients to both the aesthetic and extrinsic gifts that I receive. Both of these give me the gift of life, which enlivens my soul, love from the collected members of the choirs, and service to the church, school and community.

I never knew what an aesthetic gift was until I experienced it for the first time, camping at Glacier National Park when I was around twelve years old. I remember dad leading us on a lengthy hike with the guarantee that it would be worth it in the end. He felt the best places to go were the most difficult to get to. At twelve, I wasn't feeling it his way, but once we got there, it confirmed everything he said it would be. Dad brought us to a plateau which overlooked snow-peaked mountains from a higher perspective than I had ever seen before. Standing and looking there, I could see the glacier terrain and follow it down the sloping mountainsides below me. As a kid from the Chicago suburbs, who had never traveled west of the Mississippi River, this was the most beautiful scene I had ever been a part of.

This was my first experience of an aesthetic gift, in the form of wonder in how such a beautiful and magnificent place could exist, and being able to appreciate it. In directing choirs, I feel these moments (of varying degrees, of course) on a regular basis. Often times, it happens somewhere during the rehearsal process, when it comes unexpectedly, and everything fits in. Sometimes it happens during its public presentation, and sometimes it doesn't. When it does, I feel I have the best seat in the house and the music swells through my body.

The extrinsic gifts that I receive come from the reactions and relationships with the choir members. My mother liked to play the piano in the house and loved to sing in the church choir. She would always come home from Wednesday night rehearsals in a good mood, but one night, she was particularly invigorated. When I asked her why, she explained that the choir had been working on the Vivaldi Gloria for the past few months, and when they first looked at the music, they didn't think they had a chance to ever learn it. On this night, however, after many rehearsals, everything started to fall into place, and they weren't practicing notes and rhythms – they were making music. What a joy for her!

I planned to pursue a different career when I was growing up, but when I when I made the decision to change my college major to vocal music education, I remember that this was as a very formative experience with my mother. She simultaneously felt joy, accomplishment and fellowship with friends and all of those around her in the choir.

Now, as a choral director myself, there may be an enthusiastic declaration from a choir member during rehearsal, a look in a singer's eye, or a simple, spontaneous comment from a listener which echoes the spirit of Mom. These collective comments and responses give me the extrinsic gifts which I graciously receive.

These gifts only propel me to try and make these experiences accessible to as many people as possible. How many of my choir members are looking for the opportunity to be thrilled with the music they are working on? My guess is that it would be close to 100%. How many know how to get there? This would probably be a very low percentage, which motivates me to offer as much as I can. I hope to guide them along the way, and strive to prepare my choirs to have these moments so that they may go home invigorated and full of joy after rehearsal. The community choir is the perfect place to build these experiences, building a bond between individual members, the music, and everyone around them. It doesn't always happen in each rehearsal, but when it does, it's a great scene to be a part of.

To reach Karl Nelson, click HERE