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Swaying the Fearful Chandelier

May 6, 2013

Over a dozen  years ago I had a colleague who said he didn't believe there was a husband in the world who wasn't made happy by coming into his house and hearing his wife singing.

I told myself he thought that way because he was from Montana where, I surmised for some reason, men have kinder hearts. Because at that time I was living in New York and married to a professional musician. A real jazz genius. A guitar wizard. (And please understand, I'm quoting reviews, just not using the quotation marks they came with.)

My husband had assured me that I couldn't sing. That I couldn't sing forshit.

And so I didn't. Except in church. And that's still the only place I do it. (Though in the last few years I've come to sing with a huge community chorus where nobody can hear me, but I can still raise my voice.)

Now this isn't a posting about how aesthetics have no place in church (because they do) so that anybody with any kind of voice at all ought to be bellowing out from the choir stalls (because they shouldn't be). Nor is it a pity-me piece. Professionally speaking, my ex-husband was right: I couldn't then nor now channel the early Rickie Lee, the later Bonnie Raitt, Fiona Apple, Shawn Colvin, Norah Jones or any of the one-named wonders--Madonna, Rihanna, Sade, Beyonce, Pink, Jewel or Adele (there are more, of course)  in any way, shape or form. I can, however, warble quietly through the soprano part in the Faure Requiem (probably because I'm a Francophile) or Bach's "Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott" (probably because I'm Lutheran and it was in the water I grew up drinking).

Having said that, I do take issue with my ex-husband's claim that I couldn't "sing for shit." Singing, like dancing or breathing or eating or making love is something that somehow our bodies want to do. Not always from a choir stall. Not always on a dance floor. But we are the creatures who make things with our bodies, in all ways. The brain does not have the lock on creation. The body is at least as much a poet. (And being a poet, from the Greek, just means "to make.")

So to say that someone "can't sing for shit" isn't much different than saying that they can't make love for shit, or eat for shit or breathe for shit. Our bodies make the world we live in. Talk about original blessing!

I keep singing. I sing softly so no one hears, just in case I do sing for shit. And I sway when it's not the time to dance. And hunger when it's not yet time for the body's other hungers. But I know better than to distrust or dismiss these impulses. These are our holy markings--markings that make us both to want to live within our skin and beyond it as well.

See how the fearful chandelier
trembles above you
each time you open your mouth
to sing. Sing. 

--Donald Justice

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I'm a writer, yoga teacher, Lutheran pastor, and music nerd living in New York. I find a feast in daily living - most days, anyway - and write about it here. 

Finalist for the 2017 Chautauqua Prize!
The frank and funny story of a church-geek girl who spent twenty years in the ecclesiastical trenches as a Lutheran pastor, preaching weekly words of hope she wasn’t sure she even believed.