by heart

Singing in the choir can be a complicated task. There are notes to be read, words to be sung, part lines to follow, pages to turn, and…a conductor to watch. These jobs are to be done in continual succession throughout a piece of music and it is only when the vast majority of the people in the choir are doing those jobs simultaneously that true music is made.

I am not someone who has gone to school to learn about how to do these things well, but I have been blessed to be in and around music for the whole of my life. This morning we were singing a piece–For God so Loved the World by John Stainer–that we have sung a number of times over the years. As we began this morning, I realized that I did not have to look at the notes. I know the piece ‘by heart’. This knowing allowed me to simply watch the conductor and be part of the music in a completely different way than I am able to when I must concurrently perform all of the aforementioned tasks.

It seems that learning things ‘by heart’ is not as much of a focus as it used to be now that most any question can be answered with the touch of a button or request to a computer. There is less value placed on the process and practice required to reach a deeper level of ownership with the world around us as we strive for immediacy and forward motion.

Originally, the phrase learning something ‘by heart’ referred to the misconception that the heart was the anatomical location of learning and remembering. Memorizing by rote is not such a part of our classrooms as it used to be when there was a seemingly smaller amount of content for our children to learn. To me, though, there was a richness to the knowing of this music ‘by heart’–at my center.

I know that it is not possible to sing from that space every Sunday. And, I hope that the experience will remind me to reinforce to my fourth graders the power that can come from knowing something from a place inside that can not be accessed with the press of a button or reliance on a ‘smart’ device.


You can hear the piece of music sung by our choir this morning by going to the Facebook page for the church– First and Franklin Facebook

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