Music Powerful and Fun

June 18th, 2011

Sometimes there’s nothing quite so heartwarming as hearing a 4-year-old that doesn’t think anybody is listening.

When Jacob is all alone in his room, sometimes he will sing. Maybe it’s a song he knows, or fragments of a song he knows. Or maybe it’s something he just made up on the fly. It might be about trains, cats, letters, or who knows what. Maybe it will crack him up and he’ll keep singing and then laugh. Or maybe it will stop in 30 seconds and he’ll go on to something else. Brief and out of tune though it may be, it is still one of the most beautiful sounds I know and I love to hear it.

Jacob loves to have other people sing, too. Sometimes I will make up songs while we drive: “We are driving, we are driving, we are driving down the road; we are driving down the old country road… and we’re making some dust, yes a lot of dust…” Or Jacob likes me to sing the songs in the Winnie the Pooh book he has (the original, pre-Disney version, which has the words for the songs but not a tune, so I make up a little bit different one each time). Very occasionally he will sing with me, but if he does, he doesn’t want anybody to comment about it.

I sing with the Kansas Mennonite Men’s Chorus. We’re a group of about 300 singers (all men, though not all Kansan and not all Mennonite) that sing for charity. We’ve raised over $600,000 for charity so far.

I still remember the first time I went to a KMMC practice 3 years ago. It was my first year singing, and the first practice of the season. We started singing the first song, and wow – what a powerful moment. Even at its imperfect first practice state, hearing 300 people sing quietly is a powerful sound – and when they get to the top of their lungs, it’s indescribable. No CD can ever quite do that justice.

Jacob and Oliver come to KMMC concerts sometimes, but this year they took a special interest. Oliver pointed to, hm, perhaps 300 men and said “dad” for each one. (He was quite far away and probably couldn’t pick me out specifically.) Jacob, for the first time, sat quietly engrossed in the concert – until we got to Dry Bones (a song involving surprise and lots of homemade instruments) which made him laugh out loud. Then he would hide under his seat from the applause.

Last week, KMMC went on tour. This was my first choir tour, and Terah came along while the boys spent time with grandparents in Kansas. We sang in Bloomington, IL, and then in Goshen, IN at the fairly new Sauder Concert Hall. That hall is a few years old, and has been reviewed as once of the best concert halls in the world acoustically. It seats 1100 people and was perfect for this. The 85 or so singers from KMMC that went on tour joined the Indiana and Ohio Men’s Choruses to make a combined group of about 200 singers. And what an experience that was. I learned later this was the first event to completely pack Sauder Concert Hall.

We ended the concert singing the “Mennonite Anthem” – a souped-up version of the doxology. (You can see a video of a different group singing it to get an idea of what it was). This is often joked about as being part of Mennonite DNA. You can gather a random group of Mennonites and ask to hear “606” (its number in, well, an old hymnbook that we don’t use anymore) and you can probably get a fairly well-sounding rendition, from memory, a cappella, complete with 4-part harmony, at the drop of the hat. Mennonite youth have been known to sing it in train stations, airports, soccer stadiums, and with kazoos.

At Goshen, we had 200 men on stage, plus a brass band, plus 1100 people in the audience facing us. They were, of course, invited to sing along. (That’s one of the rules of 606: you can’t exclude anybody – because even if you tried, they’d still sing, because how can you resist?)

So I was up there on stage, singing a song I love, and hearing the 1100 people in the audience sing it to me. I could glance out over the front rows and saw the smiles on so many faces as they sang, and what a moving moment that was. The excitement and thrill of it all hit me so much that I could barely finish the song.

The numbers aren’t all in yet, but I’m guessing that we raised over $15,000 for charity last weekend (the choir members paid their own expenses in advance, so 100% of the money raised goes to international relief efforts.)

A 4-year-old singing alone in his room is really heartwarming. I have to say that 1300 people singing a song that touches each one of them is a pretty close second.

Categories: Music, Society

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  1. Kevin Mark

    Did not know about the history of ‘606’. Google pointed to this:
    http://www.themennonite.org/issues/11-6/articles/606_When_why_and_how_do_Mennonites_use_the_anthem

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    terah Reply:

    Kevin, that is an interesting article. Thanks for sharing the link!

    Reply

  2. John Goerzen

    Here’s another recording of 606: http://www.themennonite.org/attachments/audios/0000/0067/Singing01-606.mp3

    Reply

  3. Martin Leben

    Thank you!
    I especially love your ending sentence: “I have to say that 1300 people singing a song that touches each one of them is a pretty close second.”
    It is not the many that counts, but each and every the individual.
    Bless you!

    Reply

  4. Martin Leben

    … but each and every individual.

    Reply

  5. Jeannie Zehr

    Enjoyed your reflections and the wonderful way you wrote! I was glad to hear there were lots of smiling faces singing “606” because one thing that has struck me through the years when groups sing “606” is that people don’t look particularly happy or joyful. It’s been difficult to imagine how we can sing those words, that melody, with all the gusto a Menno group does, and not show it on our faces! The spell maybe was broken!! Whoopee!!!

    Reply

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