“You’re really sounding good up there this morning, Paul.”
We had a few moments between our early morning practice and the church service, which would begin soon, so I had wandered back past the sound booth. The sound technician spoke the words, innocently I’m sure.
In my mind, I held an imaginary apple in my hand and, breathing on it, polished it on my shirt. No, I didn’t do it physically, but I was proud.
I sounded good!
Moments later, in an auditorium filled with people and with the microphone turned up, I grimaced as my voice cracked on a high note and then shrugged as I struggled to stay in tune on the acapella verse of a beautiful hymn.
Pride goes before a fall.
But, I don’t want to talk about pride tonight. Or even about singing. Well, kind of about singing. It’s more about finding our voices—the ones we were intended to have—the voices people around us were intended to hear.
I’ll never be a great singer. How about you? Chances are, the answer is no for most. For some reason though, many of us—great voices or not—have a love of singing.
Don’t believe me?
Drive down any highway in any city and watch the drivers of the cars with only a single occupant. And, when I say watch the drivers, I mean watch their mouths. It won’t be all of them, but almost certainly, you’ll see a few on the road with their mouths moving and their fingers tapping on the steering wheel in time with the music.
I haven’t done any scientific studies, but I think I’m safe in saying if you ask the great majority of those folks to sing in church on Sunday, they’ll tell you they can’t sing.
Can’t sing? What were they doing in the car? What do they do in the shower at home?
They can sing. They just aren’t ready to give anyone the chance to judge the quality of their voice.
But, perhaps I muddy the waters when I speak of finding our voice and I equate it with singing. Even those of us who can’t sing well have voices. We can speak.
We do speak. Frequently. Perhaps, too frequently.
Ah! With that, we may have hit closer to the mark than anything else which could be said about finding our voice.
If we want our voices to be heard, they must be used at the appropriate time. They must be speaking at the right volume. They must be shaping the correct words.
Often, when I talk face to face with folks, I’ve seen their eyes glaze over as I speak. Since I can’t see you, it may be happening at this instant, with these very words.
Perhaps, I can reinforce the idea with an example. Sorry. It will be another musical analogy. Music is an integral part of my life, after all.
In my memory, Mr. Marlar is still standing on the podium in that dim basement we called the Lower Aud. It was over thirty-five years ago. As we drifted into class that afternoon, on our basic black music stands, we found a new piece of music.
The big guy on the podium spent a few moments going over the piece, pointing out difficult key changes and rhythmic quagmires, in hopes that we might avoid them while playing the song. They were almost certainly vain hopes, but he had to make the attempt anyway.
Right before he raised his baton to start us on our way, he looked straight at me and said, “Paul, in that section right after the time change, I want to hear you. Whether you play the right notes or not, I want to hear you!”
I placed a mental bulls-eye on the page and determined to follow his instructions. Off we went, doing our best to handle the strange notes and intervals. It wasn’t concert ready; not by a long shot.
But, may I make one thing clear?
When we got to that section right after the time change, Mr. Marlar heard me.
Watching his baton carefully, I struggled with a note or two, but I played out, with more volume than the trumpets and the trombones. I even played out over the brassy, blatty tones of Carl on that old baritone saxophone.
Indifferent to the listening ears of all forty or fifty of my fellow band-members, I played my fortissimo section for one person.
Just one. Mr. Marlar. The man with the baton.
On that day, I found my voice. It was just one little section of music. Only a short phrase played on my brass and nickle-silver horn.
But, I found my voice. And, the conductor heard it loud and clear.
Want to know something funny? So did all the other players—the ones I wasn’t playing for.
It is my firm belief that every one of us has a voice—and a message. Depending on which conductor one is following, the message will vary greatly.
I have a voice. So does every human alive. It’s been given us by the Maestro, that Conductor of conductors, to use in concert with all those who follow Him. We can choose not to be part of that great plan if we want.
The voice loaned me is not one of His strongest; it doesn’t carry all that far. Still, it carries far enough. As far as He wants it to.
His voice. His words.
To the prophet Jeremiah, as He reached out and touched his mouth, He said, “Look! I have put My words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:9)
He puts them there.
What we do with them after that is up to us.
Just as my old friend, Mr. Marlar, placed the music he wanted to hear on my music stand, so the Great Conductor makes clear what His words are. And, just as it was in that band 35 years ago, He also gives us clear direction about what to do with the words.
We could sing at the top of our lungs in our cars. It might make us feel better, though somehow I think these voices were meant for bigger stages and wider audiences.
Many will find the bigger stage and wider audience, but forget the words which were put in their mouths.
Others will remember the words, but will ignore the baton of the Conductor and blurt them out at the wrong time, doing damage to the integrity of the message. Divisions and squabbles water down the message His words are intended to convey.
I think I’m ready for this.
The Director stands at the podium, baton at the ready. He’ll give me the cues at the right time. And, I’ve already marked that loud section He wants to hear.
You may want to listen in too.
I know I’ll be all ears when your solo comes along.
I’m not interested in having an orchestra sound like itself. I want it to sound like the composer.
(Leonard Bernstein ~ American composer/conductor ~ 1918-1990)
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.”