My earliest memories of church revolve around music.
– My mother’s alto voice on one side of me while dad sang bass in the other ear.
– My mom’s finger tracking the verses of hymns she knew by heart just so my eyes could follow along and learn how to read a hymnal by myself. Once I got the lyrics figured out, her finger would track her voice part until I understood how the notation worked.
– Watching adult choir practices as a child (and I wasn’t even in school yet).
– The high school – or maybe they were in college? – kids at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Farmington, New Mexico, performing “He Lived the Good Life” in the “old” sanctuary.
– The powerful stories in cantatas like “The Apostle” or “Fabric of Freedom”. My parents were not only a part of these performances at church; they also bought the albums so we could listen at home. As a child, I didn’t fully understand the finer details involved in the stories but their impact and power were easily felt!
On the flip side, my earliest memories of music involved expressions of faith, both from the singer and the listener.
– “Because He Lives” always made my mother tear up. It still does.
– Our record player got plenty of use and our home was frequently filled with faith-based music – Andrea Crouch and the Disciples, The Gaither Trio, The Goodman Family, the Imperials, the Peterson Sisters and more.
– I remember one Sunday, when I was in elementary school, my grandmother closed her eyes during the “special music” portion of the service. She had the most contented smile on her face and I asked her later why she had closed her eyes while someone was singing. I’ll never forget her answer – “I was just enjoying the way that the lyrics touched my heart.”
One of my favorite memories of being in a church is sitting in the sanctuary of Emmanuel Baptist Church (the new sanctuary this time, with the beautiful rose window in the balcony that made the platform look so colorful when the sun hit it just right!) and watching the adult choir rehearse. There was child care provided for those in the choir who needed it. But I begged my mom to let me sit in and listen. I’m ever so grateful that she did.
What struck me the most was that they didn’t just sing through each song once and call it good. They went back and corrected mistakes. Choir members asked questions or wanted to review certain challenging sections. As a child – who had started piano lessons at the age of 4 1/2 – I knew even then, when I was too young to articulate it, that they were striving to be well-prepared. It was important to them that they give the very best performance they were capable of. Their performance was an expression of their relationship with their Savior. Nothing but their personal best would do.
This heritage combined with my own experiences playing piano, playing in the band, and singing in various choirs has led to one simple reality – the most authentic expression of my faith is found in music that is done to the very best of my ability. With a legacy like mine, would you expect anything else?