Why I Sing


Capriccio Columbus

In less than an hour, I leave for one of my favorite activities of the week–rehearsals with Capriccio Columbus. This is now my eleventh season of singing with this choral group and it continues to be one of the joys of my life. Why do I sing?

Fundamentally, singing reminds me that there is goodness and beauty in an ugly and sometimes evil world. Every time we come together to make music, we declare out loud what we intuit deeply in ourselves–that evil and ugliness cannot and will not have the last word.

Therefore, singing for me is not an act of escapism, of forgetting the hard things around us, but rather resistance, a form of declaration, of demonstration, that the deeper story of life is one of goodness, of truth, and of beauty. It is striking to me that civil rights marchers, and even those who grieved in Pittsburgh recently gave voice to their longings, their grief, and their prayers, in song.

Singing in a choral group is a living metaphor of our longings for a unity in the midst of diversity. The very nature of harmony is that different voices, different parts, when we are doing it right, blend together to make something far more beautiful and interesting than if all of us were singing the same note. If only we could figure out that a monotone society is no more interesting than a monotone choral group!

Making music involves every fiber of my being. We learned in a vocal workshop that we sing from the soles of our feet to the top of our heads. Not only does singing involve the whole body, it engages the whole mind. To focus on rhythms, notes, and words, to tempo and dynamics, and to do all of that at once uses every one of my ever-diminishing brain cells (although some research suggests that singing enhances brain function and forestalls some forms of dementia).

Every fiber of my being includes my soul, that inner, spiritual part of who I am. To sing well means to reflect on what we are singing, and how the music accentuates phrases and moods. To sing well is not just to be technically proficient, but to incarnate the music–to sing out of oneself and what that music has come to mean to us. If I am paying attention, music often speaks of realities beyond the rehearsal, beyond the concert, to the deepest thoughts about meaning, and love, and the transcendent.

Making music is handling particular pieces of music, noting with pencil particular directions for singing it, holding it in folders, doing all this next to others, some who sing your part, some who sing others. It is trying, and failing, and learning, particularly when we first read through new music. It is holding music at a certain level, high enough that you can glance over it to follow the leading of your director, who is trying to keep 80 plus people singing four to eight parts singing together. It is real, it is physical. It is active. There is nothing passive or virtual about it.

Singing is people. One makes friends, and begins to really care not only about the rehearsal but about job losses, deaths, babies, engagements, and weddings. In a world of increasing isolation, choral groups bring people from all kinds of backgrounds into what are often called “mediating institutions.” They stand between the isolation of our individual lives and the big impersonal institutions of modern society.

Well, it is about time for me to leave. For all these reasons, this is why I sing tonight.

Review: Restoring All Things

Restoring All ThingsRestoring All ThingsWarren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2015.

Summary: This book narrates the impact mediating institutions and efforts by Christians in bringing restoration into some of the most challenging situations faced by our society today.

Wherever we turn we face stories of huge challenges in our own society and around the world. Poverty, persistent racism, refugees, the oppression of women, evidence of the decay of our culture in some of its art forms. Often we look in vain for solutions from our political and educational institutions. This book suggests that for people of faith, there is reason for hope.

The writers begin with encouraging people to allow the biblical story of God’s redemptive work to inform four questions:

  1. What is good in our culture that we can promote, protect and celebrate?
  2. What is missing in our culture that we can creatively contribute?
  3. What is evil in our culture that we can stop?
  4. What is broken in our culture that we can restore?

They then go on to contend, drawing on de Tocqueville, that mediating institutions or voluntary associations of individuals between the individual and the state, have been part of the genius of the American experiment, and that such institutions, being led by people of faith, are having a profound impact on the most challenging problems we face today. They also argue for helping that helps that provides not a hand out but a hand up, and for a redeemed form of capitalism that unleashes people’s creative potential for the benefit of all.

Succeeding chapters proceed to narrate the stories of people living out this vision in the realms of fighting abortion, human trafficking, education reform, restorative justice, racial reconciliation, academic faithfulness, redeemed sexuality and marriage, the dignity of those who suffer and are disabled, care for orphaned and abandoned children, and the arts. They profile the often unheralded work of pregnancy care centers in helping women choose alternatives to abortion. They describe justice reforms that provide reconciliation and reparations between perpetrators and victims of crime. And one of my favorites is that they describe scholars who bring their faith to bear on their scholarship with excellence, sometimes to the scorn of their academic colleagues. Each chapter includes recommendations of further steps people can take to be informed and to act.

There is much to affirm in this book. The stories give us cause to be hopeful that everyday acts of faithfulness where our great loves meet the world’s great need can have lasting consequences for good and that we don’t have to wait for our political institutions to shape up. The areas of involvement they cite are all ones I would endorse and what I most appreciate in these is the balance of treatment–for example in spotlighting efforts both in Christian education, and in Christian involvement in the public schools. They feature both the contemporary art of Makoto Fujimura and the rap music of Lecrae. They uphold traditional views of sexuality and the dignity of, and need for respectful dialogue with, LGBT persons.

What I thought the book represented was a thoughtful and charitable Christian conservative perspective. It didn’t rail against more progressive concerns about immigration, or the environment, nor the impact of exploitative corporate and economic policies on the poor of the world. At the same time, it didn’t tell stories of the work Christians are doing in these areas. It simply didn’t include these efforts to “restore all things” and by its silence ended up suggesting an agenda that seeks only to “restore some things”. And by not articulating a vision of the faith large enough to include these concerns, it proposes only a slightly more nuanced version of the divides and polarities of choosing either column A or column B in parallel with the political fault lines in our country.

Yet I find hope in the thoughtful and charitable tone of this book and the urging throughout to engage with those with whom we may differ. I would hope for more of this between Christians doing good work in the areas enumerated in this book, and those working in some of the other areas that were not mentioned. Christ’s redemptive mission truly encompasses “all things” and warrants this expansive vision of “restoring all things.”


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”