I grew up listening to Garrison Keillor with my Dad as we drove in the car. I learned to appreciate his Midwestern perspective and his stories of Lutherans. Coming from a Lutheran Midwest family myself, and a family who loves to sing, this has always been my favorite story of Garrison’s. I hope you enjoy his Lutheran perspective as much as I do.
I have made fun of Lutherans for years–who wouldn’t if you lived in Minnesota? But I have also sung with Lutherans and that is one of the main joys of life, along with hot baths and fresh sweet corn.
We make fun of Lutherans for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offence, their constant guilt that burns like a pilot light, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese. But nobody sings like them.
If you ask an audience in New York City, a relatively “Lutheranless” place, to sing along on the chorus of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear.
But if you do this among Lutherans they’ll smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! And down the road! Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony. It’s a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person’s rib cage.
It’s natural for Lutherans to sing in harmony. We’re too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you’re singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it’s an emotionally fulfilling moment.
I once sang the bass line of “Children of the Heavenly Father” in a room with about three thousand Lutherans in it; and when we finished we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices.
By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.
I do believe this: people, these Lutherans, who love to sing in four-part harmony are the sort of people you could call up when you’re in deep distress. If you’re dying, they’ll comfort you. If you’re lonely, they’ll talk to you. And if you’re hungry, they’ll give you tuna salad!