If you were to stand at any pulpit in this church and throw a rock into the congregation, chances are you’d hit at least three great singers.
Chances are also good that you’d be escorted from the building, but my point is this: we’re up to our ears in great singers.
This isn’t a bad thing of course. It’s wonderful. Great singing gives spiritual fulfillment even when everything else goes flat.
Say, for example, you’ve got a notoriously boring high councilman coming. No problem. Just ask Sister So-and-So to sing a little ditty before the high councilman speaks and everyone will conclude the meeting was a smashing success. You can’t go wrong with great singing.
Or can you?
There’s a danger, I believe, in having too much of a good thing. Recently our ward choir sang a rest hymn during Sacrament meeting. It wasn’t the best performance. I’m no singer myself, so I couldn’t tell you if they were flat or sharp or merely suffering from chest colds. But they were definitely off.
That wasn’t the real problem though.
The real problem didn’t surface until after the singing was over. Once the choir sat down I turned to my wife and rolled my eyes – as if to say, “That was painful.”
My wife gave me a shame-on-you look, and it was then that I realized the real problem was me. I had become a singing snob. I had been so exposed to great singing that somehow I had convinced myself that anything less than great was not worth listening to.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. Frankly, I blame the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Their singing is so marvelous and we hear them so often that it’s easy to become accustomed to their level of performance.
Instead of being the pinnacle, they become the norm. Instead of being the exception, they become the rule.
But whether we have a true scapegoat or not, singing snobbery can be a tough nut to crack. It has many forms: whispering in the foyer about how the special musical number was anything but special, avoiding eye contact with the singer for fear he or she will know you find their voice distasteful, or worst of all – the Grand Pooh-Bah of singing snobbery – refusing to sing with the ward choir because they don’t sound great.
Oh the inhumanity.
Maybe this is a new phenomenon to you and I’m the only bad apple in the tree. Or maybe you feel just a hint of guilt. Either way, what I’ve learned since then may prove useful.
I’ve been watching the non-snobs, paying attention to how they act when the singing isn’t great. Those have been rare moments. The singing is usually marvelous.
But in both cases, the non-snobs acted the same way. Their behavior and attitude didn’t change. It’s not that they genuinely enjoyed good singing and only pretended to enjoy bad singing. They genuinely enjoyed both.
That’s because to a non-snob there is no bad singing. Oh sure they recognize great talent when they hear it, but they also accept every song for it what it was meant to be: a form of worship, an expression of praise.
So I made a list. These are the four things every non-snob does regardless of the music or the circumstance.
The hymnal says it best. In its preface the First Presidency wrote, “Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.”
In my moment of singing snobbery I had completely forgotten that. I had turned a deaf ear to the hymn’s sermon. I was so unimpressed with the performance of the singers that I failed to pay attention to that which mattered most: the doctrine of the hymn and the spirit of the Lord who confirms that doctrine. Non-snobs listen.
Nothing motivates a performer more than knowing their performance is appreciated. Non-snobs smile at the singer. They show teeth. They let the performer know that their voice brings them joy.
If the performer sees them smiling, they smile back. Sometimes they even sing better. And even if they don’t they at least know they did some good. What’s more, seeing a happy face relaxes a singer and puts much of their nervousness to rest.
3. Say Thanks
Non-snobs take time after meetings to shake the singers’ hands and express gratitude for their performance. They don’t lie or exaggerate. They’re sincere. They tell them they appreciate their talent and leave it at that.
If you’re ever been on the receiving end of such praise, you know how priceless it truly is.
Whether they have a voice or not, non-snobs sing. If they enjoy singing, they join the choir, regardless of the talent currently found therein.
I got to go to General Conference a few weeks ago. It was my first time inside the Conference Center. It’s huge. You could park the Titanic in that place. Twice.
The most memorable moment of my experience however – even more memorable than seeing the prophet – was standing and singing with all those people. It was incredible. There were thousands of us, all lifting our voices in unison. I couldn’t help but feel a little indestructible. It was incredibly invigorating.
That’s what non-snobs always feel, whether it’s ten thousand voices or just one. They know the true power of the hymns. And even if they’re just listening, they do it with a lot of heart because, unlike singing snobs, they understand who we’re singing to.