One of the four or five happiest moments of my life came at Easter Vigil 2008. My dad was there, the only time he would ever be present at my new church, a proud “Episcopal observer” from his home in Connecticut. Of course Katie was there, along with my brother David and Cesareo, who had inspired me to go Catholic in the first place.
But it wasn’t being with loved ones, particularly, or even the whole night that was the moment I’m talking about. The moment was when—after the salvation history had been read really well by Ferde, his wife Heidi, and four others, and after the lights in the church came up with sudden amazement—the whole congregation, backed by our fabulous choir, with Fred McArthur on the organ and someone banging away on the tympani, sang the Gloria.
I had learned the “Heritage Gloria” pretty well in my six months as a Catholic-in-Training, but I had come to expect it after the Kyrie, not after 45 minutes of reading in the dark and a sudden blaze of light. I was shocked to my core, and boy, did I belt it out!
A year and a half later, I have an opportunity to sing that traditional Gloria with the choir every Sunday, from where the above picture was taken, in the top left corner of our old-timey choir loft. I met Nancy, an alto, this past summer; I got talking about how I love to sing; and Nancy invited me. I’ve been singing with the choir since then.
Fred McArthur, as I understand it, is a former Brown University music director who has made St. Mary’s his permanent retirement gig—weddings, funerals, you name it, Fred’s there. He’s a superb director—a lion in rehearsal, a lamb in performance. No matter how we really sounded, he usually looks up at us after a piece, nods, and forms the word beautiful with his lips. We have some very strong voices, too, especially a soprano section that soars into descant on the Gloria. I sit in the upper corner with the basses, flanked by Richard, who, God be praised, sight-sings better than I. He’s doing Evelyn Wood, while I, like a blind beginner, fumble along in Braille. As I wrote in a previous post about singing the Protestant hymnal alongside my dad many years ago, I still have trouble splitting my attention between the bass line and the relatively unknown verses 2 and 3, on which we usually harmonize. But Richard is my great buttress, and when I am uncertain, I settle into the line and lean on him.
Steve, Cal, Cedric, Charles, and Bob round out the bass section, and they’re all strong, so most Sundays I just ride their wave of sound, filling in where I can. Father Barnes often thanks the choir at the end of 10:30 Mass, but it is I who should do the thanking. Singing the Gloria with this choir—as well as half a dozen other pieces and the usual “Holys” and “Amens” every Sunday—is an opportunity I don’t take lightly—and another reason why I am Catholic.
(I like this picture, by the way, taken with my iPhone. The perspective is just skewed enough, and the lights and people just blurred enough, to suggest the altered state that choir singing sometimes brings on.)