Singing easy in theory

I like to sing, but surprise me in the shower or rip the headphones from my ears and sometimes it’s not all that pretty.

My elementary school teacher, Mrs. Brazzell, tried, bless her heart, but music theory and actual skills never did stick with me. If you handed me a flute-o-phone I still couldn’t play “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and I can’t tell a clef note from a cleft palate.

I do, however, still know how to sing the words to the song “Hukulai,” which she taught us. It was hilarious to see a Facebook post this week about Mrs. Brazzell and the “Hukulai,” just as I had been thinking about her earlier in the week.

I like to sing but I don’t read music, I just learn songs, as they say, by rote.

I think this works pretty good when I’m just singing for my own pleasure or to praise God in worship. It’s a bit more tricky when you get asked to lead singing at church.

I’ve led singing at church off and on for more than 25 years. Most of the congregations where I did it was more because of necessity because of numbers than because I was a great song leader. I also need to point out that the Church of Christ congregations where I’ve attended all my life are acapella singing with no instrumental music.

I just have always picked out the songs I knew well because I’d sang them all my life and tried to make sure it didn’t have too many parts. Too many parts in a small congregation was a sure recipe for disaster and it was embarrassing to throw in the towel after one verse and go on to the next song.

I’ve also never done any of what I refer to as “hand wavin” or marking the rhythm. It just didn’t seem necessary if I didn’t know what I was doing anyway.

The place I led singing the most was a little church where my wife and I attended right after we were first married. Her dad preached there and he could sing pretty well; the rest of the brethren, not so much. Others made a lot of noise and I’m sure in their hearts it was joyful but if someone passed by on the street they were sure to think we were slaughtering house cats inside.

An opportunity came up last week to attend a “singing instruction” series at another congregation so I went on the nights I could attend to find out just how hopeless my situation was.

I think I now understand the theory of shape note singing but I’m not sure I’ve got the hand-eye coordination to get better at it. I picked a song I know and love — “How Great Thou Art” — as one of the songs to lead in class but when it came to the “hand wavin” it was like flute-o-phone lessons all over again.

I haven’t totally given up on this bit of self-improvement. I will warn you, however, if you get to the church and see my name down in the bulletin for song leading, do expect some simple old hymns and don’t expect stellar “hand wavin” or a flute-o-phone solo.