Blessed be the tin-eared hymn singer

By David Curtis

“Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the new born King.”

The holidays can be an empty time of year for those of us who cannot sing, hark, or even fa la la along with even the most popular and well-known Christmas songs.

In a season filled with celebrations, family gatherings, school and church programs, music plays an important role in expressing the joy of the season and setting the mood and tone for such events.

“Deck the hall with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la la la la la.”

For many, this is a sad and uncomfortable time of the year. For many, singing in public can be a painful and embarrassing experience. For many, there is no hope, no wonder pill, and no amount of voice lessons that can cure this melodious malady.

“Hi, my name is David and I can not sing.” That is how I would introduce myself at Singers Anonymous — if there were such a self-help organization for those of us who cannot carry a tune. “I once thought I could sing,” I would tell them. “In the fifth and sixth grades I was even in the elementary school choir, but now I’m an embarrassment to my family. Please, I need help to accept the fact that, I too, am a non-singer.”

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. Just like the ones I use to know.”

My wife says I’m tone deaf, a tin ear in a family of vocal divas. My daughters are both singers. They sing in the church choir, in the school’s chorus, in the backseat of the car, in their rooms, at the dinner table and while they do their homework. They tell me my noises are not even joyful.

When I sing at church they elbow my side and snicker in my ear at my off key destruction of sacred hymns — the familiar doxology is not even spared. I have often apologized to unknowing parishioners that have mistakenly sat in front of me at worship services. I’m sorry, a cold you know — all stopped up.

“Dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh, O’er the fields we go, laughing all the way. Ha, ha, ha, ha.”

Christmas hymns are the most unforgiving. No matter how hard you try you cannot fake your way through a Fa-la-la or an ego-deflating chorus of Glo - ri - a in ex - cel - sis De – o. Better men than I have tried and have fallen off the vocal wagon into the desolate, lonely hole of off key self-pity.

“We three kings of Orient are; bearing gifts we traverse a – far. Field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star.”

My wife and I have friends in Buncombe County that host a carol sing each Christmas. A gathering of friends and family that eat and drink and fellowship through the night, and then at a time when the host feels everyone is properly full and imbibed, he brings out the dog-eared copies of Christmas carols. I become a deer in the headlights, an old man on ice, a fish out of water — I excuse myself for the bathroom.

New Years is coming fast. I don’t like New Years because of that song that is always sung at midnight. I don’t know the words, and if I did, I couldn’t sing them anyway. They would be flat and who wants to start the New Year on a flat note. A new year should start with hope and anticipation of all good things possible, not badly sung unrecognizable verses.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind, Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne.”

I have occasionally sung Happy Birthday to students at school, just to prove I’m man enough to sing in public. But I’m not fooling anyone, or even myself. These are just middle school students, they like to be entertained no matter how poorly — they can relate to someone who makes a fool of himself on a regular basis.

The holidays will pass and I can avoid situations that could compromise my vocal abilities. I can be a narrator, I can tell amusing school stories, I can write, I can laugh at myself and embarrass my daughters in public. I can still find hope and sing the praises of all good things in this world — even if it is a little flat and off key. Happy Holidays.

“Hi my name is David Curtis and I have a singing problem.”

(David Curtis teaches middle school in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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