For the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me.
Over the last month, I have been privileged to hear several prayers sung by four different choirs.
The first two were quite famous.
The Vienna Choir Boys in their tiny Hapsburg castle chapel sang beautiful Mozart auf Deutsch, with cascading, classic harmonies accompanied by a real quartet and organ. The mass they sang in their little sailor uniforms was a highlight of my recent trip to Vienna.
The other was the Gospel Choir of Greater London, who sang on set of Love Actually and other movies. A dear friend from Oxford was given an experience present for her 30th earlier this year to be trained by and sing along with this choir in one of their weekly practices. She invited me as one of her allowed guests. I’ve never seen anything quite like it—no sheet music, no notes, just a organized and demanding conductor, jazz pianists and amps, and a chapel filled with articulate, strong voices learning the quite difficult songs together, always in harmony of thirds. In the few weeks since, I can still hear one of the songs reverberating in my head as it filled the hall:
“Jesus, be a fence all around me every day
Lord I need you to protect me as I travel on my way
Jesus, be a fence
Jesus, be a fence
Jesus, be a fence all around me every day”
It was really fun to see what the choir members were like—big burly men with dreads and tattoos, black women with blonde cornrows and jaw-dropping, amazing East London style. Yet these choir members were there in that church because they believed in what they were singing. I know because I could feel it. The Spirit was very strong that night, and I was thrilled to have been invited.
The last two choirs were not quite so famous, but my favorite of them all.
Once a year, LDS chapels are packed for everyone’s favorite Sacrament meeting: the annual primary program.
Because I have not yet been “released” from my calling, or congregational responsibility in London, as Primary Chorister in London and have also been asked to play the piano in Primary in the congregation I am attending in Philly, I have been able to witness two such primary programs this year, one in London, and one in Philly.
After opening song, prayer, business, and the Sacrament, or the Lord’s Supper, is passed, the stand of the chapel is filled with the littlest worshipers of the congregation, and delight all with half a dozen plus songs and give little talks while fidgeting, eating the microphone, and sharing their testimonies.
I was exceptionally proud of both groups. My little London troop were given two new songs at the last minute by the leaders who have been filling in for me the last couple of months, and so they didn’t think they could sing the songs without “visuals,” or prompts. I was sure they could, and the tykes proved me right.
The program in Philly was like none I have ever seen or participated in--and I’ve seen many, as
Primary chorister seems to be my perma-calling for each of my last five congregations. The children’s talks were their own. A thoughtful Primary President interviewed each one and put the talks into their own words, seamlessly stringing them together to fit the flow of the program as we moved in between songs from scriptures to temples to personal purity to their donations to the Ronald McDonald House.
This I have seen in Washington, DC. But in Philadelphia, each of the children—even the little three-year-olds—had memorized their talks. This also included the five year old with Turner’s syndrome, who recited the Ten Commandments. Pretty sure everyone in the congregation was moved to tears—it was flawless. You could feel all the little testimonies coming through loud and clear.
And the music had been sprinkled with extra musical instruments and harmonies by others in the congregation—French Horn, harps, organ and piano, violin. A little girl learned to play the auto harp to accompany one song and the senior primary boys learned hand bells, complete with gloves, to accompany another.
I admit to being doubtful that the Philly Primary program would be as spiritual as it could be. I know from long years of experience that the most important aspect of a program is that the children’s testimonies come through. This is often most possible when the songs are memorized and can be sung from the heart.
Yet it turns out that the Lord really does like beautiful music, and He blessed this special program with His Spirit in abundance. There may well have been choirs of angels—those with corporeal bodies and those with out—singing along in the last song, Praise to the Man. Regardless, it was a privilege.