It is not often that, during the course of a concert, I have the opportunity to "scan the assembly." My choir can do this – in fact, they often speak to me about the way they'll focus their energies on one person or a small group of people, intentionally directing their labors in a specific direction.
But for me that's not possible: the musical decisions that are on my plate, moment to moment, do not grant me that kind of luxury. What's my next capo setting? When do I cue sopranos next? How effective is the blend of guitar and organ? Is the percussion precisely where it needs to be? All these things and more keep me pretty keenly focused on the ensemble before me, and not the assembly behind me.
So on Tuesday night, we sang what turned out to be an amazing concert at St. Mary's Catholic Church, in Fort Walton Beach. It was a great big, beautiful church, and it was packed (I think the hordes of people who had been watching the national championship football match the night before might have finally heard we were in their neighborhood!)
Toward the end of the concert, we sang a song that has a special place in the hearts of the Folk Choir and those who follow our work: "Lead, Kindly Light," the text of which was written by priest and philosopher John Cardinal Newman. At the end of the song, we move to a cappella singing, all the instruments drop out, and I turn to conduct the assembly.
At that moment, my eyes came upon a huge mountain of a man, someone who had his face covered in his hand, his shoulders quaking in such a way that spoke of deep grieving. It was a glimpse, a momentary insight.
We've sung for many hundreds of people over these past few days. And on a certain level, we can glean some understanding of our music's impact as we move from place to place. But that little moment from the podium got me thinking ... about hearts that are touched, about the healing that might be taking place.
It is the other dimension of sacred song that we will never know. Yet it is at the core of why we devote ourselves to what we do.
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