Letter to Joan

Praise the Lord in the holy place;
Praise him in the firmament.
Praise the Lord for his mighty acts;
Praise him for his excellence.

Those are the first four lines of a song from “Cool in the Furnace”, a children’s musical that Joan directed in 1995. (If you don’t know the story, you can find it the first three chapters of Daniel.) In the musical, I played Abednego, one of Daniel’s three friends who are literally thrown into a furnace that’s been heated seven times hotter than normal for refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol. I had one speaking line, which was “NO! We will not worship your idol” right before Shadrach, Meshach, and I were thrown into the fire. I’ll let you read about the story in the Bible to find out what happens.

“Cool in the Furnace” helped instill in me more than just a love of Converse shoes. In Children’s Choir, I learned to love music. Since you offered your resignation, I’ve been wracking my brain to come up with something to say Joanto you that portrays accurately what you’ve given me since I was a little kid. There are two things I like about myself for sure, no matter what the circumstances are. The first is writing, and I hope this letter does my skill justice. The second is singing. And I realized something recently: Joan, you taught me that.

I have the apparently unique experience of having sung in Children’s Choir, Miriam Singers, and Adult Choir here at this church. In each experience, you managed to combine teaching, music, and actually having fun. You’re hands down the best choir director I’ve ever had, and I’ve had several. And you did all that learning, singing stuff without losing sight of the ultimate goal: to praise God. That’s amazing to me. While in choir with you, I learned to breathe from my diaphragm, stagger breathing, alto and soprano parts, how to pronounce words while singing, and to enunciate. I learned that it was okay to make a mistake as long as I was working hard and striving. And through all the rehearsals and dress rehearsals, restarts, run-throughs, and “one more time”s, you never forgot the entire point, which was, and is, God.

Joan, your serious commitment to so many children and adults week after week can’t have been an easy job. Thank you for loving the people under your direction, especially me, and bringing us to God through music. I feel closer to God when I’m singing than any other time, and you taught me that.

[NOTE: The Minister of Music at the church where I grew up resigned from her position this Spring, effective today, 27 June 2010. We had an evening service for her to wish her well in her future endeavors, where I read this letter to her in front of the congregation.]

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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