Excellence and a Broken Voice

Psalm 33:3
   Sing to him a new song;
     play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

Psalm 33:3 is a verse referenced often by us folks who make a living doing music in the church.


Job security.

Choir Directors, Worship Leaders, Directors of Worship, Organists, whoever is being compensated to lead music in church – are all being tasked with providing an excellent offering of music in worship of the Lord.  To create music for worship the congregation will find meaningful, moving, and pleasing.

But how does one create something “real” that folks will connect with week in and week out?

Because of this conundrum (such a silly word) we often err on the side of musical excellence.  We often hire professional musicians to “fill out” the ensemble or choir and we seek may out our congregation’s most gifted musicians (over its most willing).

Now, after we’ve recruited, or hired, the best musicians we should be good.  Each week folks can leave worship saying: The music sounded great…it was a stirring piece of music…and it may have related to the theme in worship.

Though – are we watching for those in our midst who have gifts of the Spirit?

When Pentecost swept through, and ushered the Holy Spirit into our world, all the tools to make followers of Christ were given.  From that point ALL have been given a voice to share with others the Love of Christ.  But, do we let all share in the gift of music in worship?  Probably not.

Why?  We are guilty of striving for excellence.

But – if we also are listening for excellence in Spirit something special may occur…

One day I was doing some chores around the house soon after jazz bassist Charlie Haden had passed.  I was listening to a fascinating NPR podcast that was a collection of interviews through the years (check it out here).  Haden had polio as a child and lost the ability to sing with any real control (then devoting his musical aspirations to the bass!).

However – he still had a voice – and when recording an album he was led to record the song Wayfaring Stranger.  It was a song of his youth he grew up hearing his mother singing.  And he felt a call to sing the vocal, despite having a broken voice.

And he did.

After laying down the vocal track Shirley Horn told him the string players were in tears as they listened to his performance.  Haden joked it must be because it was so awful.  But the other musicians were reacting to the heartfelt, earnest offering Haden gave of himself through song.  He laid out his imperfections for the beauty of the song.  Haden sang in a weak and limited voice – but did so with excellence in the Spirit.

Let us seek out the broken.
And may we all join together in shouting Hosanna in praise of the Lord!

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