Updated: Oct 10, 2020
St. Augustine tells us “When you sing, you pray twice.” As a young singer, however, I never would have thought of myself as compelled by prayer, I definitely was not compelled by religion, for that matter. And because I was not religious, I was not somehow able to formally connecting singing with religion and spirituality. As the years went by, I found myself taking paid gigs singing in many different religious denominations, but I can’t say I ever felt, truly, that I was praying.
When reflecting back on my spiritual autobiography, however, I remembered something important. I chose singing as a career because of a high school experience in a large regional chorus. In a word, it was transcendent. In that moment, I was indeed interconnected to the web of life!
At seventeen, I had already experienced my first heartbreak. Through my grief I was learning about the shadows of life, and knew the journey ahead would continue to unfold with varying degrees of suffering and struggle of my own as well as witness to human suffering around me. In a word, I knew life was not easy. But I felt deep in my soul - as I stood singing with hundreds of high school peers in front of a full orchestra - that this experience made all the suffering worth it; this coming together of human beings and offering of spirit through harmonious sound was simply divine.
That is why I chose to pursue a life in the arts, but I came to understand over the next decade that transcendence would be rare. Instead, our culturally competitive forces of ego, fear, and perfection framed most of my music making. Auditions. Competitions. “Juries.” More auditions. More competitions. Who deserves to sing? Who can hit the high D consistently? Who knows the right people? Who has rich relatives? Who looks the part? Who is in the singing circle? Who is out?
My journey pulled me away from transcendence. But I remembered it. I held it close to my heart when I began teaching a program called Music Together that boldly proclaimed music making as a human birthright. After twenty years of a sort of social entrepreneurship running my Music Together business, I decided to go to seminary. While I had not expected to continue focusing on song, I returned again and again to the spiritual power of singing as prayer in ministerial contexts. I have learned and re-learned that the simple act of singing is perhaps one of the most profoundly spiritual acts in which we can participate as humans.
So, what is singing as a spiritual practice?
PLAYFUL: Practice with a sense of sacred playfulness: non-performative, non-ego driven, not measured or assessed, non-competitive
COMMITTED: There needs to be a rather strict measure of repetition. Practice mindfully for a period every day, even when it feels weird and awkward. Just doing it anyway. Finally, it is best when memorized.
INCLUSIVE: Practice with the belief that it’s a human birthright and everyone can participate.
SIMPLE: Practice accompanied or unaccompanied. Your voice alone is sacred.