A Time to Keep Silence

I’d be shocked if anyone my age or older did not know Pete Seeger’s song, “Turn, turn, turn” which essentially quotes verses 1-8 from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. Yes, there is a time for everything.

Right now, I believe it is a time to keep silence.

Other than teaching, my income comes mainly from accompanying choral groups. I was looking forward to the spring concerts. I was looking forward to a summer choral festival. They were all cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But even worse, as reported by Middle Class Artist, an expert panel compiled by the National Association of the Teachers of Singing, the American Choral Directors Association, Chorus America, the Barbershop Harmony Society, and the Performing Arts Medical Association, agreed there is really no safe public singing until there is a vaccine or effective treatment in place.

More and more reports are coming out telling of events where one individual has infected many others with Covid-19. A combination of time and the number of viral particles in the air contribute to the level of contagion. A rehearsal or church service lasts longer than a trip to the store, and the level of breathing involved in singing causes more potential viral particles to be propelled farther and inhaled deeper into the lungs. Even excessive talking can be a problem in certain situations. I have been following these stories closely. As a church musician and choral accompanist, it pains me to read these reports.

I must admit that I am having a hard time with this. Even if I believe it to be true, it is still difficult to accept. Not only have I been a musician since I was a young child, but I have specifically been listening to or participating in singing all my life. From the time I was an infant, my parents brought me to church where I first heard choral and congregational singing. By six years old I was singing in the children’s choir at church. I accompanied the group when I was eight. I sang in the chorus in elementary school…in middle school…in high school…in college. Wherever I went to church over the years, I either facilitated singing at the piano, or sang with the congregation, or participated in the church choir. Every week, for forty-four years. Singing is as much a part of my heritage as my ethnic makeup.

It is not easy for me to say it is time to keep silence.

Many of the people involved in the groups I accompany are in high-risk groups, whether due to age or health conditions, including a couple of the directors. The same is true of many members of my church’s congregation. Singing would be very risky for them. Why would anyone want to put someone else in their own close-knit group at risk? Because of this, I have advised my church to refrain from group singing during services. I am concerned about the welfare of my church members. I don’t know when I will rehearse or perform again with my choruses. I miss seeing and making music with everyone.

Even so, it is a time to keep silence.

It is hard to keep silent. The voice is the only instrument contained within the human body. Singing and talking are elemental to our existence. It is hard to keep silent in a world where everyone wants their voice heard. To keep silent is a bit stifling. It is a bit humbling.

Yet, this time of silence is here. In a sense, it has been forced upon us.

Ecclesiastes says there is a season for everything. I do pray this time of silence lasts for only a short season. However, as difficult as keeping silence is, it isn’t inherently a bad thing. After all, we have a phrase that says, “silence is golden.” It’s interesting that some of the English translations of Ecclesiastes 3 say “keep silence.” We are silent because we are keeping guard. Silence is a discipline. And while we practice it, we learn how to listen.

It is a time to keep silence. It is crucial. But I do believe it is for our good.

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