Music at a birthday, music at a funeral — Hugh Wetmore

Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.

Did you enjoy music over the Christmas season? I hope so, for this is always a time of music and singing. I was exposed to some exciting music — especially when I was invited to a friend’s birthday celebration at a local church. Her family treated her to a birthday concert. My wife and I were among the 150 guests who shared her joy.

Who were the musicians? Her whole family. Even a paraplegic son in a wheelchair used his artistic talents to design the programme, in full colour. I’ve never seen so much talent crammed into one family. From the youngest 5-year-old bringing melody from a table-full of hand-bells, to the choir of teenagers who accompanied themselves on various instruments. Variety was the hallmark of the 24 items on the programme. Between them, they played clarinet, tenor saxophone, two violins, viola, flute, guitar, and an unusual “mellow whistle thing” of uncertain identity. They often switched instruments as they played. And they used their voices, which from time to time was augmented by singalong with the guests. The concert piano was played by one, two and (for one number) three child musicians. The singalong songs were accompanied by a pianist who (she told me afterwards) couldn’t read a note of music. She played by ear, but with so many frills and rills and intricate harmonies — she inspired everyone’s singing. We couldn’t help giving it everything we had!

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Musical families like this are few and far between. But it did spark a desire for more contemporary versions of “the von Trapp Family Singers” in our musical world so full of professional musicmakers. Family singalongs would also inspire more harmony in our world (relish the pun).

The second musical impact came out of a memorial service. A relative had passed away, and the send-off took place at a church 1 600 km distant. We couldn’t attend, but a family-member let us listen to an audio recording. Not a professional recording — she simply used her smartphone from her seat among the crowd.

The effect was stunning. It captured the hearty singing of ordinary people who enjoyed the songs. The words were clear, but not one voice stood out above the others. But the combined effect was unusual. Normally, say, when listening to a radio church service, the miked up-front singers on the platform dominate the singing. But here we were listening to the CONGREGATION SINGING. And it was goooood!

Give us more of this!

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