An Alto Singing the Soprano Part

I believe I have mentioned before on this blog that I can’t sing. I have a wimpy little voice that doesn’t carry, won’t go up high and won’t go down very low, either. I guess I could be described most politely as an alto. Yet so often in my life I seem to be expected to sing the soprano part and hit those high notes. When you’ve got a miscellaneous group of people singing together, like at Mass, there really is only one part, and women (that would be me) are expected to sing soprano.

Not a huge problem – just don’t sit directly in front of me and you’ll be fine. I know some of the other ladies can’t hit those high notes, either. Probably a lot of the guys have trouble with the low ones. We do the best we can.

Sometimes even those in the choir struggle. Not being choir material, I have always been grateful to those who sacrifice their time to attend choir practice, learn their part, and stand up there on Sunday mornings to assist folks like me in praising the Lord in song. I’ve noticed, of course, that some choirs are better than others. The choir we assembled to sing at the funeral of our beloved deacon was topnotch. Some of our Sunday morning choirs haven’t been all that great, but considering that the best voices are divided between two Sunday masses as well as the vigil, that’s to be expected. Most choir members aren’t professionals, and some of them may be not-particularly-gifted folks who just like to sing.

Which is fine with me – I’m not really in a position to criticize. The only time I have a gripe concerning less-than-stellar singing is when the cantor steps up to the microphone to lead the congregation in the Psalm. At that point I get a little finicky, because the Psalm is part of the proclamation of God’s word, as much a part of it as the Old Testament reading, the New Testament reading and the Holy Gospel read to us by the priest. The cantor at that point isn’t just making a joyful noise unto the Lord – he or she is proclaiming the Bible to us in song.

So we need to be able to understand it.

The problem is, though, that those Psalms are very hard to sing. Some cantors do a better job than others. There tend to be a lot of flat notes, missed beats and just off-key, off-tempo singing in general. My pet peeve is when the cantor doesn’t know the part and mumbles, sputters and mutters his or her way through the Psalm, leaving the assembled to wonder what exactly that was all about….

Could I do a better job? Yes and no. I could stand up there better prepared than some cantors I have heard. But I certainly couldn’t sing better than they – quite the contrary. You just can’t take an alto, give her what basically amounts to a soprano part, and expect her to distinguish herself vocally.

Yet, sadly, that’s just what I’ve been asked to do in life. As a Christian, I’ve been asked to go out into the world and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in what I say and in what I do. We’ve all been told that our life may be the only Bible certain people ever read, so our proclamation had better be pretty darn clear; otherwise, it’s like standing up before the congregation at Mass and butchering the Psalm. Huh? What?? That Christian message is jibberish!

Making the task more daunting is the fact that when I proclaim the Good News, I’ve been asked to sing the soprano part, and I can’t hit those high notes! My rendition of the Song of Forgiveness, for example, can sound worse than a cat yowling romantic notions in the middle of a hot summer night. How does it go again?? I don’t really know all the words yet. And when it comes to high C – showing love to those who have offended me – well, I just can’t sing that high. My rendition of the Song threatens to dissolve into a sorry performance.

One of the parishes here in town recently got a new priest, an amazing baritone with a voice worthy of a Broadway show. He loves to sing, and his voice is so big that he doesn’t even need a microphone. I have noticed that the singing at that parish has improved immensely since his arrival, because his booming voice just sweeps everyone else’s efforts along before it. Suddenly, parishioners who didn’t even bother to open the hymnal are singing along with Father. He makes you feel like you can sing.

That’s the secret.

I can’t hit those high notes; it’s true. But Christ, Who forgave from the Cross those who had nailed Him to it, sings with me and through me. This is no Milli Vanilli performance – I’m not lip-synching. I have to forgive. But He is not only the Singer – He is the Song, and when I make an effort to sing it, it takes on His life. Just like the cantor proclaiming the word of God in song, I am proclaiming the love of God with my life. I need to practice; I need to learn the words – but I never need worry about hitting notes that are simply out of my vocal range. He doesn’t ask me to do what I can’t do. I just need to get up on that stage, take up my mike, and sing with Him.

High C? Not in this lifetime. But it’s Him the world is supposed to be listening to, anyway.


On the memorial of St. Marie Thérèse Couderc

Deo omnis gloria!

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