Faith | Life, like a choir is not about you, but about y’all

Life is like singing in a choir — it’s not all about you, it’s about you all.

Many, if not most of us, have sung solos, in public perhaps, but more likely in private (good thing there are no microphones in showers or private vehicles!).

But if you have ever sung in a group — at a ball game, in a bar, at church, in a home, at school — you know what I mean: “It’s not about you, it’s about you all.”

Group singing is more about the group than the individual. And the group is more than a collection of individuals or an assortment of soloists.

The act of group or choral singing creates something greater. The German word, gestalt, describes such an experience where the total result is greater than the sum of the respective parts. In group singing, a new gestalt musical experience is created greater than the individual singing efforts.

During the COVID pandemic, many creative choral directors would splice together composites of individuals singing their parts by themselves. The finished assembled product was often remarkably close to the “real thing” of a choir singing in the same room at the same time.

Even if you sing along with the music playing in your headphones, there is something about hearing the people around you, often singing different parts, as together you sing and sense your way through a piece of music.

Choral singing creates a gestalt experience for the choir ... and the audience as well. Listening to a concert or watching a movie with others is qualitatively and quantitatively different than doing so alone.

Anyone can sing alone, and anyone can sing in a group. While experience and practice can help synchronize the notes, timings, and volumes of a particular piece of music, one can usually “fake it ‘til you make it” as the group’s gestalt energy will carry the overall expression of the piece. Again, it’s not all about you, it’s about you all.

The group examples listed above remind us that there are different kinds of choirs, from sacred to secular, from silly to serious. What they have in common is that choral music (vocal and instrumental) is a team sport where everyone contributes something.

Further, there is a certain leveling in group singing. The choir is not as good as the best singer and is better than the worst singer.

Some voices have more training than others, have different volume and range capacities, and have different tonal qualities. But when joined together, SOMETHING GREATER happens in those moments of the song being sung in or by a group.

Tim Ledbetter
Tim Ledbetter

Amidst the tendency in western society toward rugged and divisive individualism, the experiences and reminders exemplified in group singing can open us to something greater than our own separate selves.

Shared choruses (musical and otherwise) expressing life-giving truth, beauty, and goodness are not only wonders to behold; they are impossible without a group working together.

Living may take a village, but I think it also takes a choir.

Timothy J. Ledbetter, DMin, BCC is a retired American Baptist-endorsed professional chaplain and member of Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 4253 W. 24th Avenue, Kennewick, WA 99338. Or email