Barbara Lyghtel Rohrer
Late on a Tuesday afternoon, it’s drizzling in downtown Cincinnati. Some of the men and the few women opening the doors to Christ Church Cathedral are seeking more than respite from the rain. Most line up in the south corridor near a stairwell that leads to the undercroft where the free community dinner will be served within the hour. But a few open another door that leads into the nave, normally darkened during the week, now fully lit. Those entering are looking for more than a meal. They want the food that feeds the soul as much as any plate of meat and potatoes feeds the body. They find it behind that other door.
Most of those entering this sacred space take their places in the pews, but a few gather around Stacey Sands, cantor for the weekly service and a professional chorister. Dressed in a purple cassock and surplice, she hands out music before sitting at the piano. Three others, two men and one woman, take seats between three djembes with colorful geometric sides. She starts to play. The drummers join in. And the others gathered there begin to sing. Everybody’s Choir is now in rehearsal, preparing for the service of Evening Prayer that will begin shortly.
Members of this choir change from week to week, sometimes from song to song within a single service. Choristers include those who will soon be enjoying a free meal and those who will be serving that meal. Informality does not diminish the power of Everybody’s Choir as it leads the congregation before it in prayer.
“It’s all right,” says Eric Hois, whose bright smile outshines his bright eyes. He laughs, then shyly turns his head away. That day he stays in the pews until the last song of the service, when he goes up to the front to sing with the choir, “Goodness is Stronger than Evil.” It is not his favorite—that would be “Amazing Grace”—but still he seems to relish singing the words: “ … love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.” He also can be considered the choir’s founder.
“Everybody’s Choir started quite informally,” says Sands. “One Tuesday Eric came up and just joined me in singing. The next week, another man joined us. Suddenly we had a choir.”
This was in September of 2015. Canon George Hill brought in the djembes to add to piano accompaniment.
Some choristers continue to sing after the service. This day Chris Shipman is one of them, who says she sings in the choir for three reasons only. She then points to the three women now practicing on the djembes. “Kelly. Amanda. Penny. That’s why I sing with this choir,” she says.
While those who come to enjoy the fellowship and hospitality at the cathedral each Tuesday evening have long been active participants in this service of Evening Prayer, giving the readings and even singing, there was nothing that could be called a choir.
“Now each week we have five to ten regular choir members,” says Sands. She is excited that soon she will be able to pass out choir robes along with the music, thanks to a donation from Greenhills Community Church, a Presbyterian church located just north of the city.
“Singing for me is one of the most powerful forms of prayer,” she says. “God gave us all unique and valuable voices to share with the world. Singing in a choir allows us all to join our individual voices with that of a larger and supportive community. Singing together, the individual voice is strengthened and empowered. Through listening to each other and working together, beauty and harmony are created.”
That working together has staying power, as demonstrated one week when Sands was ill at home.
“Without me there to lead them,” she says, “the choir knew what to do, the songs to sing, and how to encourage the congregation to sing along.
“The choir members are really becoming a community. They all know each other, and we’re giving them a gathering space.”
It is a gathering space to make a joyful noise to the Lord.
for Barbara Lyghtel Rohrer
“The Guest House” by Rumi
“Self Portrait” by David Whyte
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
How to Sing in the Congregation
by Stacey Sands
You don’t need years of study to sing as a member of a congregation. Here are five steps to help you lend your voice in song for worship.
- Stop worrying about what others around you may think. Psalm 98 and 100 both say, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.” It doesn’t say anything about beautiful or perfect noise … just joyful!
- When you sing, use low expansive breaths with a relaxed stomach and relaxed shoulders. A great 3D video of how the diaphragm works can be found at https://youtu.be/hp-gCvW8PRY.
- Aim the sound through the middle of your eyes. This allows the sound to be amplified by the bones and cavities of the face and thus makes you louder without having to strain.
- Sing with tall, mostly “ah” shaped vowels. Be as British as possible here and you’ll get it right.
- Have fun and remember step one. Make a joyful noise!
for Stacy Sands
Journey to the Moon by William Kentridge
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Elliot
Infra by Max Richter
Stacey Sands, founder of Christ Church Cathedral’s Everybody’s Choir, has sung with the Cincinnati Opera and the Vocal Arts Ensemble Cincinnati. She is in the discernment process for the diaconate and plans to use her musical talents to minister to the homeless and those suffering from mental illness.