It’s all in the delivery

When the teenage pianist can’t find her music for an agonizing few minutes, I start to worry about the four different ‘special music’ pieces in the church bulletin.

The tiny church has managed to make it through a Christmas carol to the puppet-like jerking of the music leader’s right hand, his head twitching with each movement, and we’ve stumbled through a passage of the Christmas story in the Old King James Version.

The pianist misses a chord pattern and the alto sax played by her sister strangles out the third note; it’s a complicated piece and I think it would be lovely but there are moments that I’m fairly sure the girls are playing different lines of music. Their timing feels wrong, the chords aren’t resolving, and the sax keeps strangling out the notes.

I settle in for a long service.

It’s a great idea, in theory. If you’re going to have a Christmas Day service, bring people in, make it a group-celebration of music and carols, something to make it special.

But most of the special music is performed by the music leader’s children; and they’ve all, every one, picked songs they can’t actually play.

He leads us in two verses of a number of carols. The organist threatens to drown out the handful of wind instruments and it’s so very empty. Someone’s children are complaining of hunger already behind us.

The pastor is tall, and thin, and elderly, called out of retirement to preach for a few weeks that have stretched into months. He tells us about his children, coming in today after their respective services, lists their accomplishments in a soft, unwavering monotone.

His sermon proceeds the same way: A point, a verse, a rather long story that eventually ties back in to reinforce said point before the second arrives, and is dispatched in the same way.

His voice never wavers, or modulates, except for a slight drop at the end of every sentence.

The old man in front of us is nodding in the corner.

I would be too, only I’m fascinated. I’m trying to decide if he talks that way in real life, or if that’s his preaching voice. I’m trying to imagine how he preached for three decades that way, and how he might have scolded or laughed or played with his children and now his grandchildren in that soft, low unchanging voice.

His stories are historical always, but interesting in and of themselves. He even goes for comedy – but his jokes would be funnier if they didn’t end with “I’m just joking” in that same gentle monotone.

The service ends suddenly. I didn’t realize how much I relied on tone-related cues until I was behind standing for that final hymn, startled that the voice had stopped.

And we were out in the chilly sunshine and driving home over narrow roads but I almost wished I’d stopped to chat with the man.

I wished I could watch, just for a minute, to see if he every raised — or changed– his voice.






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