and also rambling about waah me and my feelings about
Principles vs Relationships
(all while using too many parentheses (like this))
I am an atheist. The hardass kind. I believe not only that no deities or other supernatural entities exist, but also that behaving as if the non-existent really exists (the practice of religion being one example), causes significant harm both to believers and also the world at large*.
I also love to sing. And a lot of beautiful vocal, and especially choral, music is religious in nature. It’s a bit of a conundrum. I’ve rationalized my way through some, but not all, of it. I’m quite comfortable singing religious music where the purpose is clearly just artistic. I’ll happily sing all the old Christian carols, because let’s face it, they beat the hell out of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. I’m very glad it hasn’t happened, but if somebody important to me died and wanted me to sing a religious song at their religious funeral, I’d do it – as long as they didn’t want (don’t click, it’s both disturbing and an earworm) Our God is an Awesome God. Or if somebody important to me got married and wanted me to sing a religious song at their religious wedding, I would, as long as they didn’t want Our God is an Awesome God or something loaded with husband:wife::Jesus:church fuckery.
I can make these kinds of hypothetical decisions as a soloist because my singing will always be strictly for pleasure, even if it’s one of those pleasures that sometimes makes me want to scream and tear my hair out when the going gets rough. I have absolutely zero interest in monetizing it and anyway I don’t expect to ever get good enough (let alone connected enough) that I would be asked to perform except at student recitals or for people with whom I already have a close personal relationship.
It’s harder to figure out where to draw the line as a member of a choir. My choir, which I love, is a secular choir but is occasionally invited to sing at church services. I’ve only felt mildly uncomfortable about it so far, because our participation has generally felt like an add-on, a special treat, but not really involved in the delivery of the worship service itself, if that makes any sense. (Kindof how singing at a hospital isn’t delivering healthcare.) They invite us, we sing whatever we have that’s vaguely spiritual or at least uplifting, regardless what the service is going to be about, and they feed us cookies after and tell us how great we are and how much they enjoyed us. As a beginner choir, it’s a great chance to get up in front of a supportive audience.
The trouble (if you want to call it that) is, even though we’re still technically a beginner choir – we take anybody, no auditions, and we specifically welcome people who believe they can’t sing – we sound pretty good (I’ll write the paean to our director in another entry). And the women’s section has been invited to participate in the service for the Feast of the Annunciation in our city’s big, old Anglican cathedral. It’s going to be a beautiful service. The music we’re singing – all about Mary, from Gregorian chant to present-day – is gorgeous. The acoustics in there make anybody sound good. And the use of all women’s voices strikes me as a fitting artistic choice.
BUT, here’s where the trouble is for me: we are very much leading the congregation in worship. We’re processing in behind the Bishop, and almost everything except the homily, and the benediction at the end, is us. I’m not sure if the Bible readings were selected to match our songs or the other way around, but we are definitely part of the complete whole. And that means that I’m not just appearing to passively condone, but actually actively participating in, something that I feel makes the world a worse place, not better.
Not that this is Westboro Baptist or anything. As churches go, I would say this is the least-worst kind. Their clergy is all women; they’re explicitly queer-friendly; they’re actively involved in helping the many homeless and poor people in their neighborhood, and don’t extort conversions to be able to get their help. But they’re still carrying on as if a fairy tale were actual reality, which is deeply offensive to me. (Theres’ a whole rant there that I should get to sometime). If I were a 100% principled person, I wouldn’t be going, and I’d make sure everybody knew why.
Of course, real life is way more complicated than that. There are a few high notes (not that high) in our pieces that only I and one or two others can hit and sound good. And I’m the old hand the brand-new sopranos seem to count on to know the music and keep them on track if they get lost. I
sang participated in all our Christmas concerts even though I had laryngitis so bad I could only honk like a goose, because our director said they needed me there for moral support. I don’t want to let my section down. I also want to maintain my good relationship with the director, because she’s also my voice teacher, one of the best in town, and very hard to get lesson time with, and I don’t want to jeopardize that, plus I just really really like her.
And even if I do talk to the director about my discomfort, there are bigger reasons things are unlikely to change in the future. Namely, that a member of our choir who volunteers extensively on the non-music end of things to the point that she’s indispensable, is a priest at the Big Cathedral. One of the indispensable things she does is make sure we can get times at the Big Cathedral for our secular performances. You can kindof look at this performance like the Big Cathedral wanting a favour in return – except that, as long as you’re comfortable practicing or appearing to practice Christianity, it looks more like the Big Cathedral is doing something extra-nice for us. And in fact that’s probably more their motive; they’re really, really nice people, especially Indispensable Volunteer.
So yeah, I guess I’m going this time. I’ll see if the euphoria of performing outweighs the moral qualms. If it doesn’t, and if there’s a next time, I might have to arrange to be out of town or something. Apparently I’m not such a hardass afterall.
*I am a hardass about freedom. I don’t believe in restricting religious practice except in the most extreme cases, like child or spousal abuse or fomenting sectarian violence. Things that are (or should be) illegal anyway.