A Voice in the Choir | Page 13 | Newberry

A Voice in the Choir

            This is twice now in two years that a religious institution has emptied out its choir library and thought of me.  I have been known—this will shock you—to complain about such things.  One of my frequent visitors informed me, “Count your blessings!  Whenever a church calls me, they want me to give something to THEM.”

            In the process of absorbing files containing multiple copies of 861 musical numbers, complete with information on which Sunday the song was performed (the choirmaster of the 50s and 60s, at least, didn’t want reruns) I have been examining the text of some of these.  I sang in choirs myself, you see, and appeared on four occasions as the choir director.  (I volunteered before I realized the period I had volunteered for began on Palm Sunday and ended on Easter.)  I even played the organ on one memorable occasion I have tried to forget.  I’d never played a pipe organ before, but it couldn’t be TOO difficult, could it?

            So my sympathy for people whose artistic ambitions exceed their artistic ability is immense.  Therefore I am not going to tell you the name of the Chicago singer, recording artist and music critic who wrote this hymn here which begins “Sing we merrily, voice we verily, chant we cherrily.”  I have looked at this line over and over.  It does NOT say “cheerily”.  It can’t: cheerily doesn’t rhyme with merrily and verily.  The poet actually meant to write “cherrily”.  I have checked “cherrily” and the best I can come up with is that it is used as a first name.  That doesn’t exactly fit the sense of the poem.

            Now, I have also been a songwriter, and though recordings of my songs are luckily obscure, I know a few of the tricks.  If you sing something fast enough. You can zip past that moment without having people inquire, “Exactly how do you do something cherrily?  Do you suck on a cherry cough drop before you chant?”

            The problem is that the poet was a baritone, and baritones of his generation weren’t known for singing fast.  They liked long, drawn-out notes which made the windows rattle.  Of course, he might have felt that if he was loud enough, people wouldn’t stop and wonder, “Cherrily?”  I just don’t know.

            It could also be that he had to get this verse in by deadline and figured this would do and he’d try better next time.  I understand about that, too.

            I don’t know why my mind keeps harking back to a book I wish I had bought, called “How To Write Bad Hymns”.  Hymns are no more immune to the pressures of deadlines and leaden eardrums than any other kind of music and, considering some of the bits of verse I have had to sing, the use of “cherrily” is hardly a major flaw.  In fact, I’m not sure I don’t rather like “cherrily”.  Why can’t we do things cherrily, chanting or chatting or chewing chowder?  The more thought I give the matter, the more I think it’s a shame that the English language didn’t pick up on the word “cherrily” when it was sung at church a few times.  (According to the dates on the envelope, they sang it on three Sundays over nine years.)

            Oh well.  Only 860 songs to go.  Now, this next one goes for assonance by matching earth with forth, and then rhymes gladness with sadness.  “Cherrily” looks better and better.

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