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When We Sing

April 27, 2018

2018 Mass Mennonite choir singing at the Eastern Mennonite University gymnasium on April 6, over 400 teens, hosted by Eastern Mennonite High School. Photo by Melodie Davis

Another Way for week of April 27, 2018

When We Sing

I grew up with a singing mother. I could count on hearing her lovely music from the kitchen almost every day of my 18 years at home, unless she was ill or had a cold. I started to write “or if she was in a bad mood” but I think she sang or at least whistled even then, to help chase away the blues.

Songs like “I’ll Praise My Maker, while I’ve Breath” and “I Owe the Lord a Morning Song,” come easily to mind from among her frequent tunes. What a beautiful habit and heritage.

I thought of Mom as I recently heard over 400 teens singing their hearts and souls out. Not only was the event beautiful and moving, the teenagers gave it their all, causing me to reflect on the role of music in our lives and worship.

The Mennonite Schools Council (of the Mennonite Education Agency) has been the supporting organization behind these mass choir events for 56 years, if my research is correct. That means some of my high school musical chums would have participated in this event while I attended Bethany Christian High School (Ind.) from 1966-1969.

Bethany Christian HS 1969 photo of me (top row) and one of my friends, Tobi Brenneman Goldfus, front, in the Varsity Chorale (not top choir).

Like many children born into a Mennonite household, I grew up enjoying singing. I dabbled in piano, and eventually tried out for choir in high school. I do not do well at holding pitch when singing by myself, so that is likely what kept me out of the top choir at school. So I sang in the “also ran” choirs in high school and college.

Our daughters were fortunate to grow up in a Presbyterian congregation that sings enthusiastically (no organ), with a pastor who organized a children’s choir directed by her musical husband, John Held. Dear John died way too early of cancer so I must sing his praises while he is enjoying the mass choir of the realm beyond. Two of our daughters went on to sing in the top choirs at their school which, even though it was a public high school, gave religious concerts in churches all over our valley. Their sister chose instrumental music, flute and piano. So I’ve been moved to tears by performances of all types.

The kids in this mass choir of hundreds of voices joined in so vigorously, their faces by turns angelic, intensely focused, and sincere. It left some of them almost panting as they hurried off the risers and gymnasium bleachers. I admired two young women who, though severely challenged with their gait from birth or injury, struggled to keep up. I was thrilled to see a good mix of ethnicities sprinkled through these “Mennonite” choirs, which now look like most of the colorful U.S. rather than the pale European blondes of earlier Mennonite lineages. Admirably, the music also represented a wide variety of countries and singing styles. I was also motivated to attend because my longtime friend’s husband, Jay Hertzler, was honored to direct this choir as perhaps a capstone of his long musical career, recently retired from directing at two different Mennonite high schools.   (Do take time to listen to at least part of this gorgeous program here )

I know that for many of the kids it was a deeply spiritual experience, moving to their bones, one they will remember the rest of their lives. Carol Penner, author of a forthcoming book called Every Day Worship, (Herald Press, June 2018) uses a line in her book I love: “When we sing we use our whole body in conversation with God.” Those kids looked like they were having deep soulful conversations with God which I hope they don’t forget.

I’m not so naïve to think none of them will be touched by drugs, alcohol, unwanted pregnancy and all of the pitfalls of our times through the teen and young adult years. As I watched them, I speculated that some of them were already involved in heavy relationships, or perhaps new crushes as they mixed with so many kids from other schools.

Next year, the mass choir will convene in Lancaster, Pa. Probably too far away for me to run to on a Sunday afternoon, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to another, but I treasure greatly this deep reminder of how music stirs our souls—and brings us closer to God. What a gift God gave us when creating us with the ability to sing—or at least to make a joyful noise in the “also ran” choir.


 For fun, send me the name of your favorite hymn or spiritual song. I’d also love to hear stories from your choir days or other musical highlights. Write me at or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA.


Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  






  1. What a legacy . . . from your mother, and singing Mennonites everywhere. Having read an early memoir draft, you know all about the music in our home, most notably my mother’s enthusiastic off-key singing.

    • Mom and I discussed her singing last night; she was surprised when she found that in her Goshen paper on Sunday! But not chagrined. She could hold a pitch well but at 94, whistles around the house more than singing. I’m sure you wish you could hear again your mother’s enthusiastic tunes. Music plays a significant part in your memoir draft! Thanks for checking in.

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