Gospel Choir and High-Fiving Strangers

I don't know who these guys are, but chances are I've served them some pizza.

The days of trying to answer the question “Who sings this song?” are over. It used to be that you would hear a song being played at a restaurant, someone would ask that question, and a cool thing would happen: People would start talking. Sometimes it was just the people at the table, but if you couldn’t figure it out, sometimes the discussion would spill over to the people around you. “Excuse me, person sitting at the next table–Do you know who sings this song? It’s like Bread, or Kansas, or America, or some crap…” (It was America, by the way). Then, the server would go ask the bartender, who (if, for some reason, he didn’t know who sang it) would ask some regular who, turns out, used to play bass for America 30 years ago. The server would come back with the answer, and your table and the table next to yours would celebrate a small victory. With high-fives, shared cake and shots… I miss high school.

Things are different now. If you want to know “who sings that song,” you click on SoundHound or Shazam or something, you raise your phone up in the air, and moments later you find out that it was some dude named David Essex. You also have the title, the artist, the year it came out, the lyrics, a link to the Youtube video to watch him gyrate like an idiot (at around the 1:50 mark, he gets particularly funky), and the option to buy the song on iTunes or Amazon.

"Siri, how many calories are in a Rolo McFlurry? You know what, Siri--Nevermind...."

I’m starting to miss not knowing the answer to things. Most of us carry around a device that, within moments, can provide us with the answer to any question we can ask it. Is anybody else blown away by this fact?!?! Seriously–The answer to any question…. And we carry it around in our pockets. “What time does happy hour half-priced drinks start at Sonic?” “Where is the nearest cupcake store?” “What are the directions from Sonic to the cupcake store?” “What are the symptoms of diabetes?” The thing is, now, instead of having to ask someone else for help (and go through the annoyance and delay of human interaction), we just ask the magic answer machine in our pocket. And don’t get me wrong–sometimes it’s awesome! I enjoy being able to look up answers to questions that are bugging me, and as long as I have cell service and a little bit of battery-life, I will probably never be lost while driving again. Really though, this is just one more thing that makes us not need each other anymore. And that’s kind of sad.

Even Kenyans like this song.

The other day, my friend pulled out his iPhone with earbuds connected and wanted me to listen to something. He was there when we were trying to figure out who sang “Ventura Highway” (We figured it out by Googling the words “Alligator lizards in the air”), and a day or two later, he showed up with the song on his phone. It sounded so good that it took me about 45 seconds to realize the recording I was listening to was actually him. He had recorded the whole song into his iPhone. All the parts–the guitars, the bass, the drums, the harmonies, the shakers–and it sounded surprisingly good. It was really impressive–the phone, the programing, his ability to play and sing all the parts and make it sound so good, his drive to get it done–All of it.

While considering the impressiveness of that recording, I started thinking about gospel choir. I went to a college without a lot of diversity. That’s very PC…. we were mostly a bunch of white people, but the non-white people had a way of making it onto all the brochures for some reason. Anyway, while I was there a gospel choir started. I wandered into one of those gospel choir concerts, and watched as a gangly Dutch girl with strawberry blonde hair (who ended up marrying my roommate’s brother) stepped forward from the group, let go of any self-consciousness, and sang her heart out while a giant group of swaying, clapping, mostly white kids leaned back to hit the high notes. It was clear to the audience that we were all worshiping together (and we all “knew” that worship was to be reverent and reserved), but this normally quiet group of Christian Reformed onlookers could do nothing to keep from standing, clapping, and joining the group in a leaned-back, close-eyed, nearly-shouted song of praise.

I joined gospel choir the following semester.

It's 2:30 in the afternoon.... I should probably put some clothes on.

I think that in many ways we have turned into a bunch of people laying down tracks by ourselves behind closed doors when we were meant to be part of a choir, giving a live performance. We are reaching into our pocket to find the answer when we were meant to find it with the help of the dude at the next table. And it leaves us feeling strangely empowered while increasingly isolated. The audience rarely stands up to cheer a recording, and I can’t think of a time that I have high-fived a stranger after Googling an answer to a question.

Not to make this political or religious (that would be so unlike me), but maybe this phenomenon has something to do with the feeling that I get from people lately that demonizes social programs, or unions, or asking more of people who have more…. It’s a feeling that speaks of bootstrap and curses talk of community. It’s a feeling that focuses on “You don’t work, you don’t eat” as fact, and dismisses “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” as metaphor. It is a feeling whose “community” ends at their own front door. It is an all-important “I,” when what we desperately need is a giant “WE” (not Wii). Guess what–If my kid goes to a great school because of where I live and five miles down the road a school is failing, then WE have failed those kids.

Maybe what we need is more choirs. In the choir, stronger voices can carry the weaker ones. If someone’s off key, they can listen to the group to find the pitch. Sure, there are leaders who are keeping time and there are times for soloists, but The Choir is the thing. Maybe we need more bands. Aerosmith is way bigger than the sum of its parts, and Steven Tyler should know this by now. Maybe we need less drum tracks and more live drummers–Somewhere out there is an out-of-work egg shaker who’s occupying legislative plaza or something. And maybe we need to leave our phones in our pockets every once in a while when we have a question without an answer. You might make a friend, you will almost certainly have more fun, and we might all end up feeling a little more connected. Plus, you never know who’s sitting at the end of the bar–especially in this town….

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4 Responses to Gospel Choir and High-Fiving Strangers

  1. James Todd says:

    I love this post, Chris.

    • theboeskool says:

      Thanks, James. That means a lot. I’ll keep ’em coming.

    • James Todd says:

      I think most of what we disagree on is about how the people we rely on are structured.
      What does the choir look like?

      “Is it a relationship with people or is it a relationship with an organization/institution?”

      I believe that relationships with institutions often have the same characteristics as the ones with the electronic answer devices.

      No one is making Steven Tyler sing with an army of tone deaf people.
      At the same time, if the choir members have all learned their notes and practiced, then if someone has laryngitis then the rest can cover for him.

      And in a concert, nobody would ask ask Diana Damrau to split her solo with William Hung just because it isn’t fair that Damrau was born with so much talent and had opportunity to develop her skills while William Hung, well…

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