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  • danapbrady

I'm singing in church now


People sing in church all the time, right? It’s not a big deal. But it kinda is for me.


Like a lot of people, I love to sing. In the car, in the shower, in the kitchen, wherever. I’ll sing rap, hip hop, a hymn, country, anything and everything. Sometimes, when I’m with the boys, I’ll just sing to them what I want to tell them, like we live inside an opera. That song, “Never Enough”, from The Greatest Showman? That’s how I tell them they can’t do something. “Nevah! Nevahhh!” Complete with vibrato and overly dramatic stage movements. They scream with disgust. But I see the gleam of delight in their eyes.


Years and years ago, back before the boys, before Jake, before seminary even, I sang with the contemporary praise band at my home church from time to time. I’m not sure why they let me sing with them. I was not good. I had zero confidence. I’d only ever sung in a choir where I could blend in with other voices. We always had sheet music and notes on a clef. The first time I sang with the band, I was given a single sheet of paper with the lyrics typed on it and my own microphone. No notes, nothing (not that I could read music even after all that choir; but I could at least see if the notes went up or down). And with that microphone, there was no way I could hide my voice behind others’. I was a nervous wreck.


The year or so before I went to seminary, I was hanging out with a good friend who had a beautiful voice and played guitar. We sang a few bars of some song, as one does in random conversation, and suddenly she suggested that we get together once a week and just sing some stuff. (Really?!? You don’t mind this off key pitchiness that I offer? No, she didn’t! Apparently I wasn’t as bad as I had always assumed.) We each ended up inviting a couple other friends to join us and shortly, we had a group: 4 Girls and a Guitar.


We cooked up a plan to have a Poolside Concert and raise money for one of the local women’s shelters. Angela had a pool at her house. Check. My praise band leader was willing to let us borrow his portable sound equipment. Check. We all went and bought a wooden bar stool at WalMart and spent an afternoon decoupaging them. (Really? Decoupage? Yep.) We were going to sit on them on the upper deck at the pool and sing out over the water to our crowd.


We printed invitations and sent them to all our friends and family. Angela’s husband grilled burgers and everybody brought something to share. And then we sang. Two sets of covers and a couple originals that Angela had written. We each took lead on some of the songs. I had learned a few harmonies and backup. It was a magical afternoon. I still have one of the invitations, blown up and framed.


The next year I was in seminary and was invited by a friend to sing with a small women’s ensemble for one of the Chapel services. We were scheduled for the first service after we all returned from Spring Break. I was excited and nervous and still a little bit shocked that they’d actually invited me to join them.


During the week of Spring Break, I went to Birmingham to visit my parents. Pulling into their driveway, I decided to park in the open spot in the carport. Their grossly overweight chocolate lab, Pete, was tied to the end of a long rope, the other end of which was tied around one of the posts supporting the roof of the carport.


I parked and got out. Pete had come around the front of the car to greet me, but in the process his rope had gotten trapped under the front tires of my car. There was no slack, but that didn’t prevent him from trying to get closer to me. His tongue hanging out, his tail wagging, the rope completely stretched. I managed to get the driver side door closed and then he was right up on me. There was nowhere I could go. The rope was hemming in my lower legs. As I tried to take a step forward, Pete took another step into me, the rope stretched completely taut against my legs. My forward momentum caused the top off my body to begin to topple over the top of Pete, while the rope held my legs and feet in place.


I don’t remember what I was carrying, but it prevented me from putting my hands out to brace my fall. So I basically just free fell over the dog. I imagined the concrete floor coming up to meet me. But my free fall was broken by my dad’s metal tool chest. The kind that’s about 4 feet tall. Lots of pull out drawers and something of a flat workspace on top. Because my hands were full, I had nothing to protect myself from hitting it. And I absolutely hit it. With my throat. (How in the world??) The edge of the flat workspace caught me straight across my windpipe, knocking the breath out me. The tool chest was on wheels, so it rolled away from me after the impact, allowing me to keep going until I actually did land on the hard floor.


Pete was on me immediately, excited for the easy access to my face so he could lick and slobber all over it. My feet were still entangled in the rope. And my throat was on fire. There was no blood, but it was so tender to the touch, I knew it would bruise pretty quickly.


I pushed Pete out of the way and stood up, trying to tell him to “Go on.” Only nothing came out. I tried again. Again, nothing. Oh Lord, did I damage my vocal cords? Can I even talk at all? I tried again, and a low guttural sound came out. Not human. Not me.


I managed to get free of that *$%{& rope and Pete and went inside. My mother was there and had heard the crash. She asked me what was wrong and I was barely able to whisper what had happened.


After a quick call to one of Dad’s ENT friends, it was determined that I had only bruised my throat but nothing more serious. I’d be sore for a while and then gradually, as with any injury of this sort (the freaky WTH sort), I’d be okay.


I had to back out of the Women’s Ensemble singing in Chapel when I returned from Spring Break. I could still barely talk above a scratchy whisper. My throat was sore for a couple weeks. Gradually I got my voice back to normal. But singing? My range had diminished to almost nothing. I was embarrassed to even sing along on the hymns in Chapel. The few times I tried singing along with the radio were tentative and not pretty. Jake and I were dating at the time and together we coined the condition I had been stricken with to now be known as “PVCD”: permanent vocal cord damage.


My fledgling “career” at singing with groups or even solos was over before it ever really got started. I was extremely disappointed and wondered 1. if I would ever manage to enjoy singing again, and 2. had I not valued the gift of singing enough and so it had been taken away from me? I never actually believed number 2. But I confess it niggled at the back of my mind for a while.


I managed to get by without really singing through my first couple of appointments after seminary. I was able to mouth the words if I was in front of a congregation. Gradually, over a year or more, I was inexplicably able to find some high notes. Eventually I found a few low notes. But my range was shot. I couldn’t hit every note throughout an entire song to save my life. What I had once so thoroughly enjoyed now caused me great frustration, even anger.


Serving together with Jake for the first time in a small town, we tried to be the song leaders for the church we served that did not have one. Jake has a rich baritone voice and the church loved it when he led. He would often tell me to leave my mic on during the hymns but I always “forgot” to flip the switch from mute. I was just too embarrassed. I sounded awful.


But, as old wounds have a way of healing over time, my PVCD calmed and my vocal cords healed. I found it much more comfortable to sing an octave below what a normal female voice might sing, soprano, or even alto. And so I was able to do some really nice duets with one of the women at our last church. Our voices blended well. I still wasn’t comfortable turning my mic on during hymns, though. I couldn’t convince myself that singing an octave lower sounded at all pleasant.


I carried that practice into the church where we currently serve together. up until a couple weeks ago, we were in the middle of music directors and so we once again found ourselves needing to lead on the hymns. I don’t turn my mic off anymore. And I don’t sing in that lower register. I just try to sing like I used to pre-PVCD. My voice drops out at any even remotely higher note. I mouth the words through it until the song comes back into my range. I just hope that if people can in fact hear me, they’ll just think my mic is on the blink (yes, every Sunday, and seemingly only during the hymns. Hmm. I know, it’s strange).


So, it came as quite a surprise to everyone, including myself, when I suggested to one of our volunteer guitar players for the contemporary band, that I’d like to sing Bridge Over Troubled Water, accompanied by him on guitar. What the actual H??


He readily agreed and we spent two or three different hours rehearsing. The most magical thing happened. He figured out which key I was most comfortable singing in - which key allowed me to hit all the lows and highs comfortable so that I wasn’t straining. And once he landed on it, it was amazing. I felt so comfortable. And it was fun! I sang the heck out of that song!! I mean, not as good as Artie, but not at all like PVCDana would have. I had confidence and I actually looked forward to singing it during worship.


I double-checked and triple-checked with every other musician and sound tech to make darn sure they weren’t just blowing smoke when they said it sounded good, just because I’m one of the pastors. Shoot straight. I don’t want to make a fool out of myself. But they assured me.


That was a couple months ago. I’ve sung two or three more times since that first Sunday. Each time I do, I am astonished by the number of people who will tell me what a great voice I have. (For real? You’re not just saying that because I’m the pastor??) It’s incredibly rewarding.*


Now I choose to sing every hymn in that lower register. It’s much more comfortable. Plus, now that people know what my voice really sounds like, I don’t mind switching my mic on in order to help lead the congregation.


Singing in church is a rediscovered joy. Or, rather, a newly discovered joy, because I was always so timid and anxious about it whenever I did it before. At my home church, in my past appointments. I’m finally able to sing out loud what feels right and it’s like a needle in a record groove.


Thank you, Lord, for the grace to try something again for the first time and absolutely love it.




*I’m not going to win any Grammy’s, don’t get me wrong. I’m just delighting in a newfound confidence that has not often been my experience.


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