Growing up in church, I sang. All the time. In fact, most of the kids that grew up at Villa Heights Baptist Church sang. It’s just what we did. It was part of our Wednesday night routine. From ages 2 to 102.
That’s an exaggeration. Not everyone sang in the adult choir. But I have almost no memory of any kids my age who weren’t in choir with me all the way through those growing up years. But it’s not the children’s choirs that I want to discuss in this post.
I wanna talk about the adult choir.
Y’all… they were good. Like, really good.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just my fuzzy childhood memories that make them out to be one of the best choirs I remember hearing in my life. There was never a competition. They never won any awards. But, under the direction of Anne Eakin, the Villa Heights Baptist Church choir was amazing.
They had a fairly large repertoire, but there are only a few songs that stick out in my memory. They’re the songs that came up often enough in the cycle that I could probably still sing along with them if I heard them to this day.
When I was still a toddler, I was picked to sing a solo with the adult choir on a song called “Boy Child of Mary,” a Christmas song. I probably only remember that because my parents had an old recording of me singing with them in the choir. Also, my part was extremely repetitive. It had to be. Because it was made for a very small child to sing it. I’m sure it was adorable. Okay, I really only remember my little part, which may have been like four lines.
Although, if I’m truly honest, there’s only one song that fully stands out in my memory. It’s called “Cornerstone.” This was my favorite of all the songs that the choir did. I remember it coming from an Easter cantata called The Day He Wore My Crown. It’s the first song in the roughly 45 minute musical program. And it’s the best one, in my opinion.
My parents would have choir practice every Thursday night for many years. Eventually, I outgrew sitting in the nursery with the other kids whose parents were practicing. As I got older, I was allowed to sit in the sanctuary during rehearsal. I did my homework and I listened. I learned.
Whenever Anne would tell the choir to pull out “Cornerstone,” I would silently shout for joy. I may not have been silent about it, though, now that I think about it. I was excited to hear that song. I committed that song to memory. I committed the tenor part of that song to memory. Dad was a tenor. I grew up to be a tenor. It just made sense.
“Cornerstone” was a song that they would break out around Easter. And they weren’t ashamed to pull it out at other times of the year, as well. But that Easter cantata was the kind of thing that was only performed in full around Easter.
Maybe it’s because today is Palm Sunday. Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic. But I was thinking about this song. And it got me thinking about the entire cantata. And then I remembered the magic of YouTube. I looked it up and was probably more excited than I should have been to find that a church recorded and shared their performance back in 2012.
I watched it and was taken back to when I was a little kid. Hearing this choir from a church I don’t know singing these songs, I couldn’t help but think about the grown-ups I knew who had solos throughout the cantata. I found myself tearing up at various moments as the songs were sung. Was I crying because the message was powerful? Or was it just the thick nostalgia of it all?
During my junior year of high school, that church I grew up in fell on very difficult times. There were disagreements about a lot of things that I didn’t understand, even as an older teenager. I’m glad I didn’t understand because I would have hated to take sides. I do know that, as a result of the turmoil, Anne made the decision to leave Villa Heights.
On her last Sunday, despite the fact that I was still a kid, I was allowed to join the adult choir to sing with them for her last time directing. The song we performed? “Cornerstone.” It was the first time I got to sing in a choir standing right next to my dad. It wouldn’t be the last. But it would be the most memorable.
I’m embedding that YouTube video with the full performance of The Day He Wore My Crown. It’s possible I’m biased, but it doesn’t touch the musical skill of the old Villa Heights choir, though it’s not bad. If you have 47 minutes, give it a watch. If you don’t have that much time, just watch the first few minutes. That’s all you need to hear “Cornerstone.” That one they pretty much got right.