posttrib
LABORIOUS 
Weather Updates

Vertrees: Sing from the heart and you’ll always be in the right key

Carrol Vertrees

Carrol Vertrees

storyidforme: 59174628
tmspicid: 932537
fileheaderid: 613598

Updated: January 16, 2014 6:25AM



A lot of what I needed to know about singing I learned when I was about 4 years old, back in our friendly farmhouse.

My dad sang and played guitar. My mom sang and played the piano. I listened and discovered that singing was easy. You just listen and then sing. Or, just sing without listening to anybody except yourself.

But let us be truthful about this. Some of us were lucky when the gene fellow handed them out — we have pleasant singing voices, but that doesn’t make us musicians.

That reality hit me the other day when my crossword puzzle answer said that a fellow named Grieg wrote a piano concerto in A-Minor. I didn’t know that. It is a lovely piece of music, but why did he pick A-Minor? One key is as good as another, I have always felt, but I apparently have missed something.

I have been in church choirs for more than 60 years and I am always puzzled when a choir member asks to hear “that F-sharp again,” or some other mysterious designation. Real musicians often talk in tongues, maybe just to embarrass or impress me, a country tenor kid.

I hear notes well, but naming them is a waste of time. Real musicians scoff at that, but what do they know?

Decades ago I sang at the wedding of two friends, and forgot a line in “Always.” The helpful young pianist covered for me and after I coughed, my memory returned. The wedding went on anyway, and there is more — the pianist asked me to sing at her wedding. Not the same song, though.

Every year at this time there is an abundance of off-key singing, but the carols survive to thrill us for another yuletide season. Singing the stirring, comforting Christmas music is not restricted to folks who can carry a tune, because singing comes from the heart, and that is a gift we all can share. Some sing flat, some sing sharp, some just sing away and have a jolly good time. That’s how music can bless us, one and all.

It took me a spell to learn two major facts about choir singing: if you don’t watch the director and listen to the sounds around you, the real musicians may wonder “What’s his problem?”

Come on, now, I know that those little black notes with tails are supposed to be sung quick, or fast, or something like that. If a black note is tailless but has a dot by it, you sing it not quite so briefly. With no dot or tail, just sing it carefully and hope.

When you see a big white note, the safe practice is to watch and stop when the director signals. Or when you have to breathe. And you probably thought that choir singing is an art!

I am not completely illiterate, musically speaking. I just can’t name all of the notes, but I can sing most of them or come close. Mostly at the right time, too.

Like many folks who grew up hearing great hymns, I just walk around whistling or singing them, and in church there is no need to bother with little black notes with or without tails. You just sing away. Now, that is fun.

And that is the blessing of Christmas carols. Hearing “Silent Night” or “Joy to the World” and other carols that touch our hearts, we are invited to sing, or hum, or just listen to the music. We do not need to understand why some musicians are blessed with gifts that inspire them to write and to play these pieces of art, but we do understand, and feel in our souls that our gifts, though limited, make us want to listen and participate.

Sharing such gifts is a team thing, bringing harmony in any key.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.