“But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.” Psalm 5:11a
The distinguished members of the local Japanese Rotary Club had just finished their sumptuous meal which would shortly be followed by a mild case of indigestion. The source of their discomfort that evening was not what they ate, but was actually on stage holding a microphone doing a poor Elvis impersonation. The culprit was me, and that was my introduction to karaoke. As the token foreign guest for the occasion, I was obliged to “honor” the assembled members with a song. In a state of sheer terror, I chose to sing “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” by the King of Rock himself, since it was the only song in English on the provided playlist. As an impromptu romantic gesture, I also dedicated the song to my lovely wife, who, understandably, was desperately looking for a place to hide!
Karaoke (カラオケ) is now a world-wide phenomenon, and the correct pronunciation is not “keh-ree-oh-kee,” as it is widely used in the West, but is instead, “kah-rah-oh-keh.” Karaoke is actually a blend of two words — kara (meaning “empty”) and oke (which is an abbreviation for “orchestra”). Taken together, karaoke means literally “empty orchestra,” or music that is missing the lead melody and vocals. That melody is provided by an amateur vocalist who sings along with a microphone to the recorded instrumental music following the lyrics provided on a video screen.
Daisuke Inoue, a Japanese musician, is generally credited with inventing karaoke in 1971 when he developed the equipment that helped launch its huge popularity. As a result, venues advertising “karaoke boxes” are now quite common throughout Japan. These are basically soundproofed private rooms rented by the hour that come equipped with karaoke machines, comfortable lounge furniture and refreshments available to order.
For many Japanese, karaoke is a great means to relief stress and enjoy relatively inexpensive fun with friends. We witnessed the unusual power of karaoke years later while doing relief work. We had gathered a number of people displaced by the huge tsunami that struck portions of Japan and facilitated an event centered on karaoke. Not wanting to destroy the ambiance of another public gathering with my vocal skills, I gladly refrained from joining the many performers. Instead, my wife and I enjoyed our front row seats to a magical evening of observing those who had lost so much, coming together as a community for a few moments of frivolity and much needed healing.
That event was a vivid reminder that we are designed by our Creator to sing. Music offers a unique opportunity to express deep feelings and thoughts that, in turn, can bring joy and healing to the participant. Heaven is described as a place where music abounds, but the focal point there is on God Himself as everyone offers up praise to Him. While our participation in such heavenly choirs still awaits us, we are encouraged to recall the greatness, mercies and deeds of God and express them in song while we linger here on earth. Instruments and skilled musicians can certainly help facilitate such singing, much like a karaoke machine, but the joy such music brings comes not through our expertise, but from a thankful heart. The Bible calls this worship and this is the kind of singing that brings delight to God (John 4:21-24).