It always amuses me, after the fact, when something unexpected happens and I react with shock and amazement. Haven’t I learned by now that life is a constant series of unexpected events?
Several weeks ago, a gentleman rejoined our choir. He’s a good singer with years of musical background and also plays piano, but had stepped away from the choir for a while and only just rejoined. He’s also a tenor, which I knew because I’d heard him sing briefly by himself when practicing something for a church retreat a couple of months ago.
Because of pure random chance, this past weekend was the first time we sat next to each other. As we’re both tenors, it was inevitable that we’d end up next to each other eventually. We don’t have assigned seating, so long as we sit where we’re supposed to sit based on our voice type (ie, tenors behind sopranos).
After a couple of minutes of chatting before practice, he said that he’d been meaning to ask why I sat with the tenors. I was puzzled and asked in return why he would expect a tenor to NOT sit with the tenors. He didn’t believe that I was a tenor. Because of my speaking voice he assumed I was a bass or possibly a low baritone, but not a tenor.
In his defense, my speaking voice is… well, it’s not the deepest voice out there. But it’s definitely on the lower end of the scale. Unless I’m excited, but then everyone’s voice pitches up when they’re excited. My speaking voice is, I believe, the main reason I’ve had so much trouble over the years whenever I tried to sing.
I’ve mentioned before that I’d never been taught how to sing before joining the choir at my parish. No one with an ear for singing had ever done any of the basics with me. And the last time I actually sang with any sort of direction was in grade school well before my voice changed. So when I got older and my voice changed, I naturally did the same thing this gentleman was doing. I assumed a low and resonant speaking voice means a low and resonant singing voice.
When I came to our choir director soon after joining and said I knew I sounded off and needed his help, he sat me down to have me sing some scales to see what kind of voice I have. When it was over, he told me I was strongest and clearest when singing in the tenor range.
Now, I’d heard the word tenor before but at that time had no idea what it actually meant beyond a type of male singing voice. Same with bass and baritone. I knew they were male voices, but didn’t know what made them different. So our choir director explained to me what they meant, that tenor was the highest of the three.
That took some getting used to.
After we finished our first song in last week’s practice, he leaned over to me and said, “I’m sorry, you’re definitely a tenor. In all my years of involvement with music, I’ve never heard a person with a speaking voice as low as yours sing tenor before.”
We who have not yet seen God face to face are often surprised by what God does, or by what God considers important. This happens when we get the relationship between God and his creation backwards. We tend to apply back to God what we see in the world around us. What we should do instead is view what we see in the world around us as a partial reflection of God the infinite and transcendent, present in the finite and immanent.
I do that all the time. God constantly surprises me because I constantly expect God to be a reflection of the world rather than the other way around. I’ll probably keep doing that the rest of my days here on earth, having to expect the unexpected from God because my expectations come from a backwards view of him and the world.
God is patient with us. Out of love, he puts up with our shortcomings and misunderstandings just as any loving parent does for their child. I’m thankful for that fact. If God was my boss rather than my loving father, I’d have been fired a LONG time ago.
Instead of pushing me away, he looks at me with that fatherly half-smile and says with a wistful sign full of patience and love, “One day you’ll get it. One day”.
Until then, I keep having to remind myself to expect the unexpected. Or, in this case, having events around me act as a reminder.
One day I’ll get it. One day.