The Archbishop Can’t See What I’m Doing While I Listen to His Sermon

Cover-Front-WidowPiano(web) 2With most churches are closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, many are offering online services. At St. Anthony in Waldport, Oregon, I was part of the music team on Saturday for the Mass we videotaped to be put online Sunday. I played piano and sang, Stella played guitar. We had one reader, one server, and three real parishioners with photos of the rest taped to the pews. It was as normal as it could be under the circumstances. You can watch that Mass here.

When Sunday came, I had already attended the St. Anthony Mass, plus I didn’t want to watch myself on the screen, so I chose a different church.

Why not go to the top? Archbishop Sample led Mass at the cathedral in Portland at 11 a.m. Very holy, very formal, trained singers, beautiful statues and paintings in the background. In person, I would have dressed up and been on my best behavior. But having gotten up late, I was sitting at home in sweat pants and tee shirt with unbrushed teeth and no makeup. I was still drinking my tea from breakfast, and I was surrounded by distractions. I wanted to go through that pile of papers on my desk. I wanted to check my email and Facebook. I wanted to get up and walk around. You can’t do any of that when you’re sitting in a pew at an actual church surrounded by other people–or when you’re sitting at the piano in clear view of the priest and everyone else.

Nor can you offer commentary. I can’t help myself. My new chapbook of poems, The Widow at the Piano, is subtitled “Poems by a Distracted Catholic” for good reason. With no outer filter, my mind squirreled all over the place.

Why are they wearing rose-colored vestments; it’s still Lent. But they sure are pretty.

Why does the archbishop keep changing hats?

I count 13 people in there. Aren’t we supposed to keep it to 10?

Who is that guy? Is he a deacon?

Hey, that’s Angela, the choir director; I’ve seen her online.

Is there a quartet in there? Social distancing!

The archbishop sure has a nice singing voice.

Oh, look at all those empty pews.

Pay attention, Sue, he’s turning the bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood.

Latin chant again?

Hey, “amen” is the same in both languages.

Ah, tricky, they put a painting on the screen while they received communion, so we won’t feel bad.

That sure was a short song.

Ugh, more organ music.

Should I be kneeling or something?

Oh, it’s over. No closing song?

Well, that was nice, but I don’t feel like I’ve been to church.

So it goes. A week ago Sunday, I attended two full Masses and portions of Lutheran and Presbyterian services. During the week, I said the rosary with the Archbishop and watched Pope Francis preach in an empty St. Peter’s Square. It was raining. The cantor held an umbrella over himself and his music. The pope spoke Italian with a woman translating in English. I kept trying to understand the Italian. The pope seemed to be limping pretty badly. I was relieved when he finally sat down. But it was nice to be there without the crowds.

Maybe I’ll try the Portuguese church in San Jose next week. Why not?

There’s religion all over the net, and I am so distracted.

Speaking of distractions, I was supposed to do my first reading and my first book-signing for the new one last week. Both were canceled. I’m afraid my poor books will just disappear. I had hoped to publicize both The Widow at the Piano and my other chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead, which came out last October, together. Now . . . piffle, as my late husband used to say.

I’m not the only author in this fix. Spring is book-launch season, and many events have been knocked out by the virus. Readings, signings, talks, workshops, conferences, all canceled. What should we do? Just wait? But here are these lovely books. I am going to try to record some of the poems and share them online. Stay tuned.

I’ll give some books away, too. For the first 10 people who are willing to read and post about The Widow at the Piano or Gravel Road Ahead on your blog, at Goodreads, or on Amazon.com—or all three, I will send a free copy of the chapbook of your choice. Email me at sufalick@gmail.com if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep seeking religion online. I can’t guarantee that I’ll behave while I’m watching. Maybe if I could do it with a group, I’d be more reverent, but oh yes, we can’t congregate. Have you tried going to church online? What is it like for you? Or are you just going to commune with God on your own via meditation or time spent in nature?

Neither of my grandfathers were regular church-goers, but they were good men. For Grandpa Fagalde, all those hours he spent fishing, staring at the ocean, may have been church enough. Grandpa Avina might have been listening to San Francisco Giants baseball games while the women went to church. Whatever works.

Stay well. Do the best you can to avoid getting sick, but don’t make yourself crazy. You cannot sterilize the entire world and everything in it.

Buy books.

Amen.

Look for Me Sitting on the Piano Bench

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Dear friends,

I have been AWOL here at the blog for a couple weeks. Another trip to California. Upcoming books to promote, music to play, dog to walk, bla, bla, bla. I have been working through some poems from a few years ago and would like to share this one with you today. Most of it is true. There are moments when I see myself sitting at the piano at Sacred Heart playing songs I learned in my childhood and I’m amazed. Without lessons or encouragement, I never stopped learning to play those 88 keys. I’m still learning a little more every day and grateful for the privilege.

HER CALLING

Her mother says, “Go change your clothes,”
but instead she runs to the piano.
Climbing up on the stool, feet swinging
in her Oxford shoes with lace-trimmed socks,
she picks out the notes of the hymns
the sisters sang at catechism class.
“Ave, ave, ave Maria.”
“Holy God, we praise thy name.”
Her fingers half the size of the keys,
she finds the tunes and sings along,
grinning through the gap in her teeth.
“Stop that noise,” her father says,
turning on the baseball game.

But she cannot stop. She plays anything
that makes a noise—toy xylophones
and saxophones, plastic ukuleles—
and sneaks minutes at the piano when
her dad goes out to mow the lawn
or her mother leaves for the grocery store.
From a yellowed old instruction book,
she learns to clap out time and beats,
four-four, three-four, six eight,
quarter notes, half notes, whole notes
allegretto, andante, pianissimo.
Blocked by the family photographs,
she moves them to expose the keys.

At school, she finds the practice rooms,
a bench, a piano, an unlocked door.
But still she has to sneak. She’s
never had proper lessons, isn’t
authorized to be there, but
she’s drawn to it like a lover
she meets secretly at lunch,
then runs, breathless, to her English class.
One day, outside, a young man hears.
She blushes as he claps his hands.
When they marry, he buys a Wurlitzer
spinet, all 88 keys just for her.
He never tells her to hush, not once.

She’s widowed nearly a decade now,
but her wedding band shines in the light
as her wrinkled fingers dance,
playing the notes of the “Gloria.”
Her right foot pedals, beating time.
Behind her, the congregation sings,
one man in the back especially loud
and half a beat or so behind.
Leading the choir with nods and waves,
she smiles up at Jesus on the cross,
remembers that child with tiny hands
sneaking songs so many years ago,
because The Almighty told her to.

***

Copyright Sue Fagalde Lick 2019

 

 

Not the hands! Musicians’ greatest fear

IMG_20160711_091241546_HDR[1]One minute I was deadheading my roses and nudging the compost cart along. The next I was on the ground staring at my throbbing fingers. The open cart had become unbalanced and fallen toward me. I fell in among peach parts and chicken bones. I know I hollered as I went down. Only the trees heard, and they said: “What do you want us to do, we’re stuck in the ground?” If a woman hollers in the forest where no humans can hear her, does she make a sound?

Anyway. I landed with my left-hand fingers first, specifically the middle, ring and pinkie fingers. Yes, I’m left-handed. I also banged my left knee and whacked my ribs pretty hard on the rim of the cart, but all I cared about, once I determined I was still alive, was my fingers. I needed them to hold down the frets on the guitar and play the bass notes on the piano. Everything else I could figure out with one hand. I’ve done it before.

As a musician, I always worry about the fingers first. Once upon a time in Lincoln City, OR, I fell down the stairs of our rental house. I still wince at the memory. My injuries were relatively minor but worrisome. My sideways-pointing big toe was the doctor’s main concern, but I kept whining about my fingers, two of which were swelling rapidly, and hey, I had a performance in three days. I didn’t need my big toe, but I definitely needed my fingers.

This turned out to be not that bad. Nothing broken, just bruised and slightly swollen. After a few days of ice and rest, they’re almost like new, sore and a little purple but workable. I played all weekend. Why did I put my hands out to stop my fall? It’s instinct. Better hands than head, our body says, throwing the hands down before we have a chance to think about it.

A couple days later, I was chopping berry vines at the side of the house, my hands protected with leather gloves. My late husband Fred had left behind this pole saw thing that I had never used, but I just had to get those high vines that were leaning on my house. So I studied the thing, hung it on a branch, pulled the cord, and it cut! Excited, I started cutting everything in sight. However, in my enthusiasm, I pulled down too hard right above the chain link fence and whacked the heel of my right hand on the upward-pointing wires hard enough to bruise it. It was at that point I thought maybe klutzy musicians should not do their own gardening. But then yesterday I pinched a finger in my keyboard stand. Another bruise. Fingers are in for it no matter what we do.

Fingers are so vulnerable. They stick out at the end of our hands with no protection. Without them, it’s hard to play guitar or piano or most other instruments—although I do know two talented men who play well despite missing their left index fingers. It doesn’t take much to put you out of business. A paper cut in the wrong place, a mashed fingernail, a mosquito bite. When people shake my hand too hard, I think: Careful! The fingers!

An injury to one little finger can put us out of business. It seems like we should sit with our hands in our laps and do nothing. But we can’t do that. We have to live our lives. I’ve had sprained wrists, torn shoulder ligaments, golfer’s elbow and tendonitis from my shoulders to my fingertips. I’ve worn slings, splints, and braces. I’ve applied “liquid skin” to torn calluses. Most of the time, I played anyway. I have seen guitar players bleed on their strings from cuts that didn’t have time to heal. Life is dangerous. We take our chances and thank God every time we get to play again, even if it hurts.

It’s not just musicians and fingers. Think about the body parts people use to do their work: the artist’s eyes, the pitcher’s throwing arm, the dancer’s feet, the perfumer’s nose. And you would not believe how paranoid I am about my vocal cords. I can’t get sick! I’m a singer. But that’s a whole other blog.

I’m typing this post with all 10 fingers. The keyboard seems to be a safe place, but you never know. There’s always carpal tunnel syndrome.

Worst case, I’ll play my harmonica. No fingers needed.

Comments? Do you have any finger-hurting memories to share?

Can I Get an Amen?

The priest pounded the podium as he shouted, “They did it on Sunday morning! On Sunday morning!” He pounded so hard we flinched and a few people covered their ears.

Father David, visiting while our regular priest was dealing with the death of his father, is what you might call colorful. Sitting at the piano as choir director, I had to be alert every second because the Mass would not follow the usual patterns. Oh no. But I could sympathize with his rant about Sundays because I’m constantly dealing with people who expect me to do things on Sunday mornings, not considering that I might possibly be at church. That very day I was missing an important meeting because it was Sunday. Sometimes I want to pound wood, too.

But let’s get back to Father David. He’s a missionary who lives in Warrenton, up the coast near Astoria, Oregon. He has been to Sacred Heart several times now. His Masses are always a wild ride. Father Palmer, bless his heart, has a hard act to follow.

You know it’s going to be different when you walk in and the priest kisses your hand and tells you you’re beautiful. When you tell him your name is Sue, he bursts into song: “Suzanne takes your hand to a place by the river . . .” He knows all the words. Not knowing what else to do, you sing along. When my friend Georgia arrives, he sings, “Georgia, Georgia . . .”

You know it’s going to be different when every door and cupboard in the sacristy is open, and there’s this guy who looks like one of our many homeless visitors who turns out to Father’s assistant and ends up in a white cassock serving communion. And there’s this other young guy named Travis with a tiny tuft of beard who also shows up on the altar in a white cassock and reads the announcements. You wonder what gives with these assistants, but they’re friendly and you suspect Father needs their help.

You know it’s going to be different when you walk in at five minutes before Mass time, and Father is already on the altar talking and leading a prayer. Then he goes back to the vestibule and processes in. Wait? Are we late?

You know it’s going to be different when he finishes the opening prayers and suddenly looks at you expectantly. You’re thinking: We don’t have a song here. He softly says, “The Kyrie,” which is something the priest usually leads, but he’s not going to. So you stand up at the piano, take a deep breath, and belt out “Kyrie eleison!” and hope the choir and the congregation echo you. Thank God they do. The notes vary, but it’s loud.

You know it’s going to be different when out of nowhere Fr. David shouts, “Amen!” and invites you to say Amen back. And he does it again and again until you’re all laughing and shouting and thinking: Is this really a Catholic church?

You know it’s going to be different when he gives a 10-minute sermon before the readings, when he has his assistants stand on either side of him holding candles while he reads the gospel, when he strolls down the aisle during the homily and challenges people with questions and comments, and when he points a finger at you and asks if you have been redeemed. Startled, you nod yes because what else can you do.

You know it’s going to be different when he starts speaking during the offertory song, when he tosses out a new prayer in the middle of the Preparation of Gifts and adds little asides during the Eucharistic Prayer, when during Communion he bends down to hug and talk to the little kids, and when he sips throughout the mass from a little black wine goblet. He says it’s water.

You know it’s going to be different when he scoops handfuls of water from the baptismal font and flings it with his hands at the people on the altar, the choir and you, so that drops of water are running down your face and beading up on the piano keys as he tells you to “tickle those ivories” for the closing song. He sings along. Afterward, he tells you the choir is “awesome.”

You also know that he did it differently last week and if he comes back in the future, it will be different again. All you know is that you don’t know what will happen next and that the Holy Spirit is dancing a jig because the Catholics are finally livening up.

You know you hope Father David comes back soon.

We pause between holiday church music marathons

Whoever decided to put Christmas on a Friday was not thinking about church musicians who would be thrust into a marathon that would leave them with shredded voices, weary fingers, and monotonous Christmas carols playing endlessly in their heads. Four days in a row of church music! This week we get to repeat the exercise with Masses for New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Saturday vigil and then Sunday. If this doesn’t get us into heaven, nothing will.

Unfortunately, we have a memorial service this Wednesday right in the middle of it all. Tom Taylor, a longtime choir member and wonderful human being, died suddenly last Monday of a stroke. He and his wife Sally were getting ready to head to Washington to spend Christmas with their children. She went out for a little while, came back and found him on the floor. We will miss Tom terribly, and we hurt for Sally. It’s definitely a lesson that we never know when God will call “Time!” and all the earthly stuff we put ourselves into a dither about won’t matter.

I won’t be at the service. I’m having an endoscopy, a procedure in which the doctor sends a little camera down my throat into my guts to see what’s going on in there. I’m thinking he’ll find a pile of musical notes, with the edges of all those sharp notes poking my stomach.

Meanwhile, back in California, my family saw the advantage of having a judge living in the house. On Christmas Day, my brother the judge performed a marriage ceremony for his son and his fiancée right there in the living room. Total surprise to most of the family. Congratulations, William and Courtney.

Christmas wasn’t so happy for some families living at the north end of our little town of Newport. With the ground saturated by record-setting rainfall (25 inches so far just in December), portions of two houses slid into the ravine behind them, and several others may slide off, too. The residents of the damaged and endangered homes were evacuated with no chance to grab anything or make any plans. Luckily, no one was hurt. These houses are across the street from a friend’s house. I saw them on Christmas Day. Wow. Again, you never know when everything will change in an instant.

All those Masses were exhausting. So many songs, with a varying cast of singers who may or may not have known the songs when they arrived. Sitting, standing, kneeling, singing, chanting, praying, communions, collections. Red and green clothing everywhere. Between Masses, gifts, wrapping paper, ribbons, cookies, chocolate truffles, bourbon balls, singing the same songs again and again, hearing them on the radio, on the TV, in the stores. Christmas trees, Christmas lights, elves on shelves, lines at the gift exchange counter.

Then bam, it’s over and we’re back to walking the dog in the rain and hoping the money lasts until the end of the year—which is this week! For some, the events of the last two weeks have changed their lives forever. For most of us, we’ll be trying to shake “Jingle Bells” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” until Valentine’s Day and trying to get back on our diets to lose the extra pounds we’ve gained.

One more good thing happened recently. A new book called Biting the Bullet: Essays on the Courage of Women came out on Dec. 19. It includes an essay of mine titled “Tubes.” You might want to buy a copy.

I hope your holidays have been happy and full of blessings, and that 2016 is a fantastic year for all of us. Feel free to share your holiday experiences in the comments.