“It’s good to see you,” H.G. Young told me as I wandered around inside the sanctuary of Clendenin United Methodist Church. “You’ve got some friends here, I think, and you’re welcome to sing.”
I smiled and told the music director I was there just to listen.
“I haven’t sung with anyone but the radio in almost two years,” I said.
Four years ago, following months attending rehearsals with the Kanawha Kordsmen, I’d been brave enough stumble my way through the bass part of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Thankfully for everyone involved, I wasn’t the only bass voice, but part of a group of community singers under Young’s direction, who were keeping up a tradition that went back over 80 years.
The old church has been through a lot in the hundred years since it was built, including the cataclysmic June 2016 flood that nearly drowned the entire town. Murky water filled the basement and had come up to the very last step before reaching into the sanctuary.
COVID-19 hadn’t been easy for the church or for the tradition of singing. Last year, the concert joined the list of events canceled because of pandemic safety concerns and public policy.
According to Young, 2020 was only the second time the concert had been put on hiatus. The last time had been during World War II, when founding director and conductor John R. Barnes was serving overseas.
Traditions can be fragile, and I was glad to hear Clendenin United Methodist was soldiering on, so I went for the concert, took a seat toward the back and maybe collected a dirty look for wearing a T-shirt and jeans.
Instead of performing from behind the altar, the chorus performed from the balcony, while an audience of around 10 sat in the pews to listen and watch on video screens. Others listened and watched online.
The chorus was small, only about a dozen singers, but the music was sweet, reverent and probably better than when I barreled through my part under-prepared.
It was good to see Clendenin United Methodist Church continue their tradition.