I was not thrilled to be at church yesterday morning at 8:15 to prepare for Mass. I wanted more sleep, my car’s tire light was on the whole way to St. Anthony’s in Waldport (low pressure, not a flat), and I was wiped out from volunteering at the Willamette Writers’ conference. Nor was I thrilled when I realized I’d be doing this Mass alone because guitar-playing, big-singing Tim was waylaid by a situation at home, and the other singer I had expected was not there to sing. But God gave me a voice to sing and a piano to play, so here I was, grateful I had taken time to practice.
Tim made it in eventually, and the Mass went well. Afterward, a man came up to tell us how grateful he was to hear our music. He broke into tears. “My wife just died two weeks ago,” he said. “Usually the 9:00 Mass is so quiet. I’m so glad to have music.” I clasped his hand, but he pulled away and left, clearly embarrassed to be weeping in public, even though he had every right to weep. “My husband died, too,” I called after him. But he was gone, and it was time to get ready for the 10:30 Mass.
As much as I hated getting up early and playing back-to-back Masses, I vowed to keep doing as much church music as I could for as long as I could. I used to get paid for it at my previous church. I don’t at St. Anthony’s. I don’t care. I don’t need the money; I need the music.
Music touches people. It heals and soothes. Not all music for all people. Hip-hop, for example, just annoys me, and I hate the meandering organ music sometimes played at funerals or before church services. Give me a good melody and an earnest voice, even if it isn’t perfect.
I’ll be 70 next year. What is this little old lady still doing behind a microphone? Until I was 30, I sang mostly in school and community choirs, but as 30 approached, I had an “if not now, when?” moment when I decided it was time to step out and start performing on my own. I still did the choir thing with The Valley Chorale in Sunnyvale, California, the Coastal Harmony Vocal Band in Pacifica, and the Billy Vogue Country Singers tour that was supposed to make us all famous–and didn’t, but I also took my originals and cover songs to art galleries, festivals, sidewalk markets, senior centers, nursing homes, garden tours, coffee shops, and stage shows of various sorts.
In the early days, I had a nylon-string guitar and no sound equipment. I was too chicken to play piano in public, but eventually I had a carload of gear and played guitar, mandolin and piano while continuing to sing. My late husband Fred was my roadie and my biggest fan. It’s not the same without him.
Did I ever make much money at it? Precious little. Ages ago, I decided I could not pursue two careers full-tilt at once, and I was a better writer than musician, so I would write for work and do music for God, my only goal to do as much of it as possible as well as I could.
COVID knocked out all in-person gigs. While some churches had no music at all, we were lucky to continue offering music at St. Anthony’s. For a while, we sang with masks on to pictures taped to the pews and a camera sharing the Mass via Zoom and YouTube. Gradually the restrictions eased. The people came back, and the masks came off. Now we may be looking another surge of the virus with renewed restrictions, but meanwhile, I’m still playing and singing.
I’m not the only one. One day last week, I felt really depressed. I had cried a few tears at my desk, asking God why I had to be alone. Then Facebook notified me of an “Open Your Hymnal” concert being offered live. Three Catholic singers offered healing songs and prayers. My tears dried. I grabbed my guitar and played along, watching their fingers to “read” the chords. I was comforted.
I hated getting up early for church. I hated driving all the way to Waldport with the tire light on because I didn’t have time to stop and there are no gas stations or tire shops between South Beach and Waldport. I still feel a little stage fright wherever I sing and play. But I love the music, and I thank God we could give something to that heartbroken man who just lost his wife.
Whatever your gift, let it shine. Someone needs it.
P.S. The monthly South Beach acoustic jam/open mic is happening Sunday, Aug. 8, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the South Beach Community Center, 3024 SE Ferry Slip Road, across from Pirate’s Plunder. Bring your instrument and join us.