A thousand voices throughout history sing Alleluia.
With a second-hand acoustic bass and zero real practice since high school, I joined a Hope Fellowship praise team last summer. There are a lot of talented musicians at our church, so this felt like a big deal.
“Your pickup mic is broken,” another bass player told me when I went onstage with my instrument to test it out, after the service, in August. I told him he had played wonderfully.
“Thanks,” he said. “I’m a little rusty; I haven’t played since June.”
I haven’t played since 1997, I thought.
But the first few services went OK. “Bass players stand in the background by the stage curtain, diligent and anonymous,” Brian Doyle describes (The Book of Uncommon Prayer). I’m fine with this back-up role! Allan and I have such an aversion to the spotlight that we got married almost surreptitiously, during a Sunday evening service.
OLD AND NEW
Last month “Lift Up Your Hearts” was on our team’s list. But neither the male vocalist nor lead guitar player was familiar with the tune.
“It’s one of my favourite songs,” I said offhandedly during rehearsal on Saturday night.
And the praise team leader said firmly, “Then you’re singing it.”
Well, my singing career is even dustier than any bass chops. An older sister told me, age eight, that I couldn’t sing and I believed her. That was more or less the end of that. Yet beautiful music at church (anywhere, actually) can move me like almost nothing else. I love the haunting echoes of “Lift Up Your Hearts,” which was sung at our church service wedding.
“OK,” I said. The sheet music was just words and chords. I bumbled through. That night at 10 p.m. I called my cousin, a musician, in a panic.
“Hannah! What do the men sing in ‘Lift Up Your Hearts’? I’m supposed to go first!” She found a gray hymnal and I raced around the house looking for a matching hymnal while she sang me through it. Sure enough, without a musical score I had been veering wildly back and forth between the traditional men’s and women’s parts. Hannah sorted it out.
Originally just one stanza, “Sing Alleluia” was composed by Linda Stassen-Benjamin in 1974 and given four more verses when it was added to the Psalter Hymnal. Its name was also changed to the new first line as per Hymnal style guidelines, as Rev. Joyce Borger, Director of Worship Ministries, explained to me later.
CLOUD OF WITNESSES
“Lift Up Your Hearts” was the final song at church the next morning, which gave my nerves a lot of growing time. I cleared my throat compulsively during every other song, then finally walked to the front clutching an old hymnal and, redundantly, the sheet music. It felt like the pastor summarized his whole sermon in that final blessing, and maybe even expounded on a few more points he didn’t have time to get to earlier. Hymnal and paper were both trembling in my hands. Finally, the pianist played his intro and I sang that first line, eyes screwed shut in what I hope looked worshipful and not terrified. I did not open them again until the song’s end; but it didn’t matter. My voice wasn’t the point. Before the second word, accompaniment from every corner of the church filled in the melody. Their voices rolled down the descending notes of the first line and then soared upward in beautiful harmony when the round began, a chorus of praise lifted up to the Lord.
Echoing a thousand voices throughout history.
And singing with gusto, as though we’ve all been personally invited to join in.
Sing Alleluia to the Lord.