I’m told I have a good voice, but I generally don’t sing in public. I pretty well keep my performances confined to the shower or the car (when driving alone). I think my reluctance to perform publicly harkens back to my days at St. Michael’s, specifically to 7AM mass, more specifically to the choir loft during one particular 7AM mass while I was in sixth grade.
Sixth grade was a big deal for us at St. Michael’s – that was the year we got to go up into the choir loft to sing for mass during the week before starting each school day. The seventh and eighth graders got to sing at Sunday masses. We, being yet unpolished, were reserved for our classmates and the few unfortunate older parishioners who dared attend the Mass Before Class.
I was excited about singing in the choir. The choir loft had always fascinated me – it was up a winding circular staircase which was either cordoned off by a folding metal gate, or kept under the watchful eye of one of the ushers – one of those Authorized Personnel Only type of places. Now, at last, I could tromp up those steps and take a seat in a perch that gave me a whole new perspective on a church I had attended since before memory.
I was not a stand out in choir, quite satisfied to blend in with the same general undertone as all my classmates. None of us would have won any awards, but when you put all those average voices together the result is more than passable. For weeks I was quite content to meld with the rest of the crowd. As Christmas approached we began practicing Christmas carols, which I sang with more gusto than other hymns – why not, I knew most of them by heart already and I really like Christmas carols.
I also liked Gloria Zimmer, though I don’t think she even knew who I was. She sat two rows in front of me in the choir loft, the established protocol being girls in front, boys in back. One morning, just a few days before Christmas break, we turned our hymnals to P. 58 and what to my wondering eyes should appear but “Angels We Have Heard On High” – one of my favorites. We all began singing right on cue.
Knowing the song by heart I did not even have to look at the page. So my eyes wandered to the glossy black curls on the back of Gloria Zimmer’s head. I suppose my mind was more on Gloria than on world about me when we got to the refrain. I really let into it. I sang my silly heart out, belting out the long Glo..oooo..o..oooo..o..oooo..or..ria in excelsis Deo in a manner that would have made Pavarotti proud. Several of the girls sitting around Gloria tucked their heads down and giggled.
I finished the song quite pleased with myself. As Father Karlatta continued on with the mass Sister Joseph Maria wandered to the back of the choir loft. A moment later her hands came to rest, one on each of my shoulders, as she leaned down close to my ear.
“Some of us should sing more softly than others, Mister Johnson,” she whispered. She then wandered back up to the front in time to take up the organ for the exit procession – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. I barely mouthed the words.
© 2011 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.