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Joining the Christmas choir without experience

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A few Christmases ago, I did something that was, for me, kind of daring. I signed up for our church's Christmas choir.

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I'm not generally a choir kind of gal. While I enjoy choir music, I don't view myself as anything other than an appreciative listener. But that was before our choir director spoke from the altar about a specific need our church had.

"We need new members for our Christmas choir," he said, leaning into the microphone, causing whiny feedback to rocket around the walls of our church. "You don't have to have experience -- just come join us! You just need the desire to worship through song, that's all."

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He peered out at the congregation. "See you at practice next Tuesday at 7 p.m., we hope!"

I looked at my husband. "I don't have experience," I said, smiling, as he began shaking his head "no." I was just what the choir was looking for! And while I might not be Celine Dion ... I can carry a tune.

Tuesday at 7 p.m. sharp, I entered the church again. I felt ... ready. I had entertained my skeptical family with some vocal warm-ups -- "Me-me-me-me-me-me," sung up and down the scale.

The choir leader smiled gratefully at me, and at another woman who had answered his altar call as well. She was holding a thin stack of sheet music.

"Did he already hand out the music?" I asked her, glad I knew the general tune of "Silent Night" and "O Come, All Ye Faithful." I wasn't great at following sheet music.

She smiled warmly. "Oh, I just found these in my music bench before I left the house -- this is old sheet music from my time at the conservatory. "

Wait -- what? She had a music bench? And had spent time at a conservatory?

My hands felt huge and empty. An elderly woman walked over and handed me a three-ring binder with our church's name embossed on it, containing sheet music. "Here you go, dear," she said. "We probably will start with the cantata."

The can-who, now? What happened to "The Little Drummer Boy" -- or any Christmas song I knew, for that matter?

The choir leader tapped his music stand with his little stick. Then he paused, looking directly at me and Ms. Music Bench. "New members, make my day and tell me at least one of you is a contralto."

While my new friend shook her head regretfully, I coughed, stalling for time, and then answered lamely, "I'm not sure, it's been so long since I've checked." I had no idea what he was asking.

He smiled at me, a little uncertain, and raised his stick again.

"When Christ was gathering His disciples, he wasn't looking for learned or scholarly men -- or men who had lived holy lives."

"Let's start with 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring,' and remember, people, we are lowering volume during the intermezzo, and this contains a deceptive cadence."

I was panicking now. Sweat was starting to form. He might as well have been speaking a different language. I turned to the correct sheet music page, and wondered if I could just mouth the words until I caught on.

Then, an older man in the row behind me who had been watching me intently tapped me on the shoulder. "Just follow the notes up and down," he whispered conspiratorially, winking. "You'll get it. Sing it right to God."

And that's what I did. I stuck with the choir that Christmas -- and each practice, I got a little better. I wasn't a star, or a stand-out, but that's not the point of a choir -- or of church. The point is to worship and give glory, the best you can -- just one part of a harmonious whole.

The evening of our performance came, and I was nervous. I wore a silk blouse, a long velvet skirt, and pearl earrings. I checked and re-checked my sheet music from the back of the altar, where we were lined up, ready to march out and form our rows.

When we took the stage, I looked out to see family and friends winking and waving at me, and others who were smiling in anticipation. My youngest son gave me a thumbs up, grinning.

I took a deep breath. "Lord, help me not to mess this up," I said silently.

He listened, and I didn't mess it up. As our voices mingled together and filled the church right up to the rafters in celebration of the wonder of Baby Jesus' birth, I was so grateful to be counted among the church choir.

Later, over a glass of Christmas punch, I teasingly asked the choir director why he said, "No experience necessary," when he was asking for people to join the group.

He paused for a moment, then answered, "When Christ was gathering His disciples, he wasn't looking for learned or scholarly men -- or men who had lived holy lives. He was essentially saying, 'No experience necessary, to follow Me.'"

He smiled and added, "Who am I to improve on that?"