My wife, Merryl, and I had just attended the ACDA National Convention in San Antonio. On Friday afternoon we went to the final presentation of "Together We Sing", the worship service held in the First Baptist Church. Our worship closed with "O God, Our Help In Ages Past" arranged by John Rutter. John's wife Joanne, along with my wife and I, were music majors together at the University of Redlands in California. While at the convention, I had heard that their nineteen-year-old son had died in an automobile accident a few days earlier. My heart was heavy.
Then those wonderful choirs from North Dakota, Washington, Texas, and Kentucky came down from the balconies where they had thrilled us with their antiphonal "surround sound" for the entire hour! We stood in the front row. When those beautiful kids encircled all of us for the final hymn, we were peering into the faces of young people the same age as the Rutter's son and our own two sons. Through wet eyes, I felt I could see into their very souls as we sang together. Every convention has a particular highlight for me.....I can never anticipate when it will come, but this was it!!
However, these events don't tell the whole story - you see, the week before we flew to San Antonio, a troubled, disillusioned fifteen-year-old shot up the Santana High School campus near our home, killing two young men and injuring many others. My family has had many ties with Santana over the years. Bryan Zukor, the first boy murdered, had been attending our church where my wife was organist a few years prior. Our sons had attended the neighboring high school, occasionally competing in swimming and baseball at Santana. The campus is in the same school district where I was raised - - where I fell in love with choral singing. It is also the same district where my wife has been the choral director at Granite Hills High School for eight years. Santana is only three miles from our house. This was all too close to home! We carried a terrible sense of loss with us to San Antonio.
After returning to San Diego from the San Antonio convention, Merryl asked me to come to her rehearsal at Granite Hills on Wednesday morning. I was to rehearse her choir on a new composition of mine that we were preparing to take on tour to San Francisco the following week. The next afternoon, while she was rehearsing her Men's Choir, gun shots rang out on her campus! Six miles from Santana, same school district, seventeen days later! I have been shaken by the conflicting images in my mind of young people singing praise to God in San Antonio - - alongside angry, troubled kids striking out in violence, alienation, and desperation.
Choral music, instrumental music, drama, athletics, student government, and many other extracurricular activities provide young people with places to belong, with healthy interpersonal relationships, and with opportunities for achievement - - all enhancing individual character. Such activities provide our students with positive experiences that guard against alienation. As choral musicians, we experience a very special bond when we sing together. Our "singing breath" gives voice to our "hidden pangs" and our greatest joys! We who invest our lives in the aesthetic dimensions of choral singing know instinctively that no change in gun laws, no metal detectors, no psychological profiling will change the foundational fabric of our humanity and our need for renewal of faith. Let us, as choral directors who constantly plumb the depths of ennobling texts and powerful music, continually strive to embrace into our choirs the unloved, the misfit, and the young heart crying out for a place to belong. Let them become a part "....of all that sing".
Here is the text we were preparing for tour -
Sweet Are The Lips Of All
A few can touch the magic string,
Nay, grieve not for the dead alone
If singing breath or echoing chord
Sweet are the lips of all that sing,
~ compiled by Bradley Nelson from
Lyrics copyrighted ©2001 by Alliance Music Publications. Used by permission.
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