Not just anyone can sing in the church choir

Published 10:22 pm Wednesday, January 29, 2003

By By Lloyd Albritton
I don't mean to sound ungrateful for the talents I do have (people say I'm a pretty good Scrabble player!), but I wish I could sing, or pick a guitar, or play a harmonica-or something musical! I love music and I enjoy few things more than hanging out with good musicians and watching them jam on their instruments. It seems to be a very part of human nature to be awed by mysteries and miracles, things we don't understand, and that is precisely what music is to me, both a mystery and a miracle. Though I love the end product of music, I don't even begin to understand it.
My friends have always told me that I could not "carry a tune in a bucket." I used to enjoy singing simple hymns at church, but a few years ago the preacher called me in and asked me if I could just move my lips because I was messing up the rest of the congregation. When I tried singing my children to sleep when they were babies, they squalled.
Some years ago, when I lived in California with my family, we attended a church there with the worst congregational singing I have ever heard. I liked it that way because I felt more comfortable with it. Nevertheless, the preacher decided the church should have a choir, so he called one of the brethren to serve as the Choir Director and to spearhead the formation of the new church choir. The fellow called to the position, whose name was Brother Val Lamson, was consummately qualified for the job. He was the choral director at the local high school and knew everything there was to know about music. Brother Lamson was a frail little fellow with a wild head of hair who looked sort of like Dr. Zorba on the old Ben Casey Show. Brother Lamson's wife and all his children were musically gifted too. The whole family was disgustingly intellectual.
Brother Lamson accepted the preacher's calling with one stipulation. He would not be compelled to allow just anybody in his choir. Instead, he insisted that he must personally select and audition each and every candidate to ensure that the new choir could perform to his standards. For a month or two, Brother Lamson could be seen in each Sunday service sliding in and out of the pews during the congregational hymns. He would cannily sneak up close to prospective candidates with his clipboard in hand, lean over and cock an ear, make a few notes, then move on to his next victim.
Finally, Brother Lamson began his individual auditions. These were conducted at his home during the weekday evenings. When my wife, June, was summoned to his home one evening for an audition, I was not surprised. June played the piano and she had a wonderful singing voice. We planned to do some shopping after her audition, so she asked me to go along and wait for her.
Upon arrival at Brother Lamson's home, he welcomed us and ushered June directly into his music room. After a few moments, they came out smiling and Brother Lamson cordially complimented my wife on her performance and assured her that she would make a great addition to the new choir.
Turning to me, he said, "OK, Brother Albritton, your turn."
"Oh no," I protested, "I'm only here with my wife. I'm a terrible singer and you certainly don't want me in your choir."
"You can't fool Brother Lamson," said Brother Lamson, grasping my elbow and leading me toward his music room. "I've heard that lovely voice of yours."
I knew Brother Lamson had mistaken me with somebody else, but I went along anyway, thinking it would be a good practical joke on him when he saw how bad I was.
Positioning me standing beside his big grand piano, Brother Lamson took a seat at the piano and said, "Now let me hear you sound out each of these notes." He then commenced to tap out a series of notes on the keyboard.
Bing, bing, bing, bing. Bong, bong, bong, bong.
I tried! "Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, aaahh. Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, aaahh."
Brother Lamson frowned as my notes came out sounding like a bad cough.
"Well, humph, humph," he muttered. "Perhaps you are just nervous. I'll tell you what. Let me just hear you sing a few lines. Do you know the words to God Bless America?"
"Oh yes," I said. "I know the words."
"Well then," he said, "I'm going to play enough to get you started and you just sing until I tell you to stop."
"OK then," I replied. He started playing and I started singing. I knew he would not let me get far before he realized how bad a singer I was.
" God Bless America ," I began modestly. Brother Lamson motioned with his arm and hand for me to sing louder. " LAND THAT I LOVE . . ."
But something was wrong here. Brother Lamson did not stop me. "Perhaps I am a better singer than I thought," I thought to myself. "By golly, I think Brother Lamson likes my voice!" And so I kept going, finding courage and boldness in my new confidence.
"STAND BESIDE HER, AND GUIDE HER . . . , I sang, and kept right on going through the entire song, belting out those notes with all the gusto and power of an opera performer. Brother Lamson sat and stared blank-faced at me through the whole thing. He was starting to look a little pale and sickly toward the end. "He must've had something bad for supper," I thought, feeling supremely confident that my new talent had been discovered, another miracle which left me awed.
Brother Lamson looked down at the index card in his hand (the index card with my name on it, no doubt) and scribbled a few notes. He finally lifted his eyes hesitantly and with a look of pity which made me think I might have cancer, said, "Well, Brother Albritton, that was very good, but I think we're going to save you back for a little later until we have built up the choir a bit and can find a suitable place for you." He then took my elbow gently in his hand again and ushered me back into the living room to join my wife without a word.
Lloyd Albritton publishes movie and book reviews and his favorite poems on the Internet at He invites your comments at

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