The church I grew up in had a choir loft. Come to think of it, most churches have choir lofts. And it does just what the name advertises: it makes the choir look lofty. They were set far above us mere hymn-slogging mortals, surpassed only when the pastor took that extra step above them into the pulpit. Not only was it probably good for their egos, but all the parents in the choir had an eagle-eye vantage point for giving the stink eye to their kids goofing off during the sermon.
When I was 10, my dad, the choir director, moved me up from children’s choir to sing with the grown-ups. Now I was the one looking serene and lofty on high, if somewhat shorter than the rest, when we stood majestically in unison to sing. And from that standpoint, I noticed something else about singing in the choir loft. Holding my folder correctly and watching my dad conduct us, I couldn’t see anyone down below. Quiet as the proverbial church mice, I couldn’t hear a pin drop out there, so we might as well have been singing to an empty room. I felt an unexpected freedom, none of the usual performance anxiety that went with singing to an audience. How they received the music had no impact, almost didn’t matter—we were, literally and figuratively, above them.
It took a while for that to bother me. I mean, come on, I was 10. But slowly, it did begin to bother me. Singing to no one certainly lightened the burden of seeing negative responses, but it took away all the joy of seeing someone else enjoy what we were doing. It severed the electric connection that musicians feed from, that circles back and forth, between artist and audience, until all of the people are swept up in the emotional whirlwind that makes music a potentially ecstatic experience.
It takes a lot more nerve to get up out of your seat, right there among everyone else, stand up in front of them and perform in full view. On their level. Perfectly positioned to receive not only the encouraging smiles, but the yawns and the flicks through the announcements in the Order of Service. The way artists perform in our congregation, we are on your level. Nothing lofty. You decide if it’s special or not. We see how you feel about our efforts.
But at the same time as that takes a lot more guts, and I want to give all credit to every singer or player who stands up in front of our small but mighty congregation, who takes that stand and gives of their gifts, there’s something about that level floor that says something about our values. We share all of our gifts on the level: our voices, our thoughts, our joys and sorrows, our messages, our responses. Our commitment to the belief that no one stands above anyone else, and no one ranks above anyone else. That flat floor, rented though it may be, is a potent symbol of the democracy we hold as part of our identity, and the basic equal humanity we believe in as UUs.
So be sure to look around the room the next time the choir performs, or Lina plays, or we sing a hymn together. See the emotions on everyone’s faces that music has inspired. Don’t let the choir hide behind their music—draw them out with smiles and nods. Let us all be swept up on the tide that rises from that lovely, level ground.