I’m singing the Faure “Requiem” this weekend. The bass part, anyway. Or, as I usually say when getting in way over my head in a serious musical work, I shall try my best to “do no harm.”

This is hard stuff. It takes work. Rehearsal after rehearsal. But I have sung it before. When my wife directed the Northeast Kingdom Chorus in Vermont several years ago, we did Faure’s “Requiem,” and some of it sounds familiar. But frankly it’s a struggle for me . I’m not a musician, I can’t quite read music, and if I ever had a decent voice, it has aged some. Plus, the singers who join me in this challenge are part of a dwindling church choir. Dwindling. Funny word, isn’t it. Even looks funny.

The adult choir at the church I grew up in is (and here’s another odd term) growing smaller. Oxymoron aside, the truth is that when I sang with that choir fifty years ago it had maybe five or ten singers more than it does today. What’s remarkable is that the church’s membership is probably 400 fewer than it was in 1960, but the choir hasn’t shrunk proportionally. Yet it is dwindling nonetheless. Only one tenor now. And the bass section is comprised of one church member, one visitor (me), and a young man I suspect is being paid to lend his trained operatic voice to the section each week. I don’t mind that, by the way. He’s worth every dollar, and anytime a musician can find a paying gig, good for him/her.

So, the dwindlers are tackling Faure. I’m having a hard time of it. When I have sung with the 600 member choir at the Montreat Worship and Music Conference, I was able to hide among the scores of bass voices and sing the notes I knew and mouth the ones I couldn’t find. Even in Vermont’s community chorus, the basses numbered five or six. And I think we did Faure justice. But this performance coming up on Sunday, even with a fourth bass coming in from a neighboring church, will surely test our volunteered vocal abilities, as well as the patience of our professional basso.   

Still, we persist. And we shall endure! We carry on! Because the concert has been announced. And because we are determined to see this through. Our director continues to encourage us. He knows this is not an easy work. He knows many folks who come to hear it have heard it before and know what to expect, musically. He knows it is a magnificent composition. And he knows that with just a couple more hours of rehearsal, we will do the best we can, and Faure will not turn over in his grave! After all, 120 years have passed since he completed its composition and our little choir still wants to share it with our neighborhood.

And I will do it no harm. The stronger singers will shine and they will give voice to something Faure admitted he wrote for fun. I have to admit that it hasn’t been “fun” to struggle with it week by week in rehearsal. It’s hard for a singer like me. (And imagine the plight of our lone tenor: how does he divide himself into tenor 1 and tenor 2?) Furthermore, it’s an arduous adventure for our whole choir. But by 4 p.m. on Palm Sunday, the audience will no doubt be touched by the hauntingly beautiful “Pie Jesu” soprano solo (OK, she’s paid, too, but her gifted reading brought tears to my eyes Wednesday night). Those who hear us sing the Faure that afternoon will hear more than we sing, and sense the deep and enduring faith that inspires such music and that keeps hope in God alive. We will sing of everlasting light, endless glory, and eternal rest. Even as we sing in Latin, the intention of the text will touch the hearts of listeners. If God’s grace is enough to cover our every sin, so Faure’s music will overcome whatever shortcomings our dwindling may evidence.

One note of irony to mention. In larger churches than ours, in those so-called mega-churches of no particular denomination or doctrine, worshippers may hear far larger choirs and instrumentalists performing simple “Jesus jingles,” or praise music. And yet here are the dwindlers tackling the challenging and complex and magnificent music written for large choirs and orchestras. It is very hard work. But we will not let Faure or Brahms or Mozart or Beethoven down. Their gifts will live on in our most humble efforts.

My hope doesn’t dwindle at all!