So one of the members of my Sunday morning choir had a crappy week last week. Car broke down, cost big bucks to fix, had to cancel a trip because of it…and is the mother of a teenager. Ouch.

Our regular schedule is to rehearse after the church service to get the next Sunday’s anthem all ready to go and preview the following week’s music to get it set in the singers’ brains. We meet an hour prior to the service to remind ourselves of how the anthem goes and put a little spit-and-polish on it before sharing it with congregation. Works like a charm, I haven’t had a train wreck anthem yet (knock wood…or the top of my head).

This week’s before-the-service rehearsal was distressingly close to the whole train starting to slip the rails thing. It was as if nobody had seen the piece before. Entrances were off or missed, people were so transfixed on figuring out the little dots on the page that they seldom (okay…never) looked up at me and our poor car-repair-is-killing-me soprano just couldn’t seem to get anything right. It had all the makings of a true disaster (and it’s always the Director’s fault so I’m sure the gang could smell my fear). At one point I just had everyone stop and take a deep breath and take a moment to focus on the moment, commenting to them that things were a bit discombobulated and we needed to get them RE-combobulated. Fear not, we pounded our way through it and everything worked out and the anthem was great.

So exactly what happened? How is it that a choir that NEVER comes apart like that did so on this particular Sunday? I think I know the answer and I also think it tells us a lot about how different and wonderful choral singing can be. You see, a choir is more than just a group of people attempting to sing the same thing at approximately the same time. Once it gets its rhythm and gels a bit it becomes a living, breathing thing. Add to the mix the fact that many of this group having been singing together for years and that living, breathing thing is further solidified by a combination of trust and friendship and a shared joy in making music.

Just like any living, breathing thing a choir with a discombobulated member feels their discombobulation (yeah…I’m pretty sure I made that word up…but you know what I mean) and it has an effect on the whole. With a group as tight-knit as the one I lead, that effect can be pretty dramatic (as I discovered last Sunday!); the singers don’t know WHY something is out of whack…it just is.

Luckily, choral singing has its own cure for discombobulation (now that I’ve used the word twice it should immediately be included in a dictionary), the singers themselves. They don’t need to know the details, they just have to share a need to fix it so they can make the music happen (and keeping their fearless leader from having an aneurysm). That same trust and friendship and a shared joy in making music is the first, best cure.

Thank goodness…train wrecks inside church sanctuaries can be so darn messy…