At the conclusion of the 10:30 service on Christmas Eve, I noticed a gentleman hanging around upstairs by the console as I finished the postlude. I sat down to switch from my organ shoes to my regular shoes while I noticed him apprehensively approach me a few times, and then walk away. 

I was not sure what he might say – Did we not sing his favorite Christmas carol? Did I play one of the hymns too quickly/too slowly/too loudly/too softly? I was bracing myself for criticism when he finally introduced himself. He told me that he is not a member of our parish, but has made it a point to attend services during December with us the past several years; he said he always starts with us at Lessons and Carols and then comes each Sunday morning up to Christmas Eve. He expressed great thanks for the journey that our music brought him from year to year. He then added that unfortunately this would be his last December with us as he was moving out west for his job. I assured him that there were many great places out west who do fantastic music and I’d be happy to help him find a good place to go once he knew for certain where he would be living. He thanked me, but said that there was always just something “different” about our music, and it wasn’t something he thought could be found elsewhere. I thanked him for his kind words and then admitted that, in reality, it’s the choir that does most of the work, not me. And I really mean that.

My job week in and week out is to primarily criticize the choir; not to the point of being cruel or mean, but to constantly fine-tune things in an effort to always make something better. There is nothing fun in having to tell someone they’re doing something incorrectly, especially when that person is a faithful volunteer who, through his or her pledge, helps to pay my salary! But, for whatever reason, the members of the choir keep coming back weekly. I am well aware it’s not because of me. It might be that they love making music, or they love the community they have made with other members of the choir. For some, it is their devotional offering to God. Others might be unsure about exactly what they believe, but find God’s presence somewhere in the music. I never ask them why they are in choir.

At one moment on Christmas Eve, we were singing a hymn and I glanced over at the choir and observed them all singing, many smiling as they did so. I then looked at members of the congregation who were seated opposite the choir. They, too, were smiling. I couldn’t help but think it might be a contagious thing spreading. Here was this loyal group of singers who were not able to spend all of Christmas Eve with their families like most people do on this holiday. Yet they were completely present and fully committed even after singing what may have seemed like the 1000th verse of a familiar hymn they had already sung multiple times that evening.

Two weeks earlier, members of the choir led a carol-sing at Goodwin House (an assisted living facility). It was a Saturday morning in December and I’m sure the choir had many other places they would have preferred to be; however about 150+ residents who showed up to sing with us and the joy they had was palpable. When we finished, members of the choir visited with the residents personally. It was heartening to see and hear the residents of this place sing familiar carols with us. Some had lost their sight, but were still able to recall the words of the hymns and fully joined with us. They smiled throughout the sing-along and were effusive in their thanks at the end.

So, I suppose the gentleman who spoke to me that night was right -- there is something “different” about our music. And that, in turn, makes me smile too. Thanks be to God.