Some people say that God is love. I say God is music, and music is love.
Last night and today I've thought a lot about music, and the role listening to it and making it has played in my life. Sharing music with people can be so personal, and so expansive. I've had some wonderful, intimate experiences of singing lullabies to my babies. And the most spiritual moments I've ever felt have been while singing in a chorus of 100 voices, with the sounds echoing through the high ceilings of a marble chapel. I thought that there must be some higher order to the universe to make all the sounds interact so neatly.
Whether singing harmony to Dolly Parton on the 8-track, or singing James Taylor songs in the car with my father and step-mother, listening to my mom and aunts sing harmony while doing the dishes, or gasping excitedly for breath while a huge choir sang around me in Lincoln Center, music has been its own leitmotif in my life. I have sung at my brother's and father's weddings, and my grandmother's funeral. My other grandmother, who says that music is her religion too, has planned the musical fare for her own future funeral. She did that decades ago. And half a century before that, she was singing in a trio with Dale Evans. My brother has a band now, and I've sung with them. Once I got onstage with a zydeco band in New Orleans and played the washboard with them. I'd have sung if I knew the words. Lately I've sung in my living room with my friends Linda and Roy, my babies (not singing), and my mother-in-law, who has the most wonderful voice. My mom has sung in her church choir for years, and following her lead I've sung in lots of church choirs in many different cities. When I worked in Mexico, I amused the whole office by singing the jingles I learned from the radio. In Brazil I sang the Minas Gerais state song with a green parrot named Juruna.
Is that enough of my singing resume? Need I mention the musical theater shows I sang in? Mom's advice at the auditions for "Annie" was "sing loud and smile!" I got the part in the show, but I also use the advice as a metaphor for getting through life. I've sung loud and smiled my way into lots of jobs, apartments, countries. My marriage even.
By far, one of the most wonderful parts of my life was singing in my high school choir under the tutelage of the director, Phil Raddin. As my parents were getting a divorce and I was insisting to the world just how independent I was, I became very dependent on Mr. Raddin and his choir. He had -- has -- the amazing talent of bringing music out of high school kids. He is a rigorous director, insisting on very precise diction and timing, flowing dynamics, and disciplined vowel sounds. And beyond the mechanics, he makes the choir members feel the music and "emote" the hell out of it. When you put this together with a bunch of adolescents who would follow him through hell and back, you get music that bounces off the walls and reverberates through hearts. And while music is the end that we were all working toward, it was also the means to lots of other things kids needed. Self-esteem, pride, sense of community, work ethic, fun. Love. I sang second soprano in the chorale. I also got love, encouragement, and attention from Mr. Raddin and Mrs. Garza (now Mrs. Hood), our beloved accompanist. I lived for them.
There is a song, "The Music and the Mirror," that the characters in "A Chorus Line" sing as they audition for a part in a show. Substitute "sing" for "dance," and it describes my experience in the HHS Chorale:
Give me somebody to dance for
Give me somebody to show.
Let me wake up in the morning to find
I have somewhere exciting to go.
To have something that I can believe in
To have someone to be.
Use me, choose me,
God, I'm a dancer,
A dancer dances!
Give me somebody to dance with.
Give me a place to fit in
Help me return to the world of living
By showing me how to begin.
Play me the music,
Give a chance to come through.
All I ever needed was the music
And the mirror and a chance to dance for you.
When Mr. Raddin moved to a different school my senior year of high school, I was crushed. I didn't realize it at the time, but he had really become a parent to me while my parents were otherwise occupied. For twenty years I've kept in touch with him through Christmas cards. I've watched his two kids, through yearly photos, be born and grow to beautiful children. I heard from a fellow HHS Choruster that his music program at Klein High School won a Grammy! And then last year he wrote that he was coming to Washington, D.C.
Yesterday I went to see his choir perform at the National Cathedral. They sang a 30-minute program, a prelude to the Evensong service. There were 50 or 100 Texan teenagers, all dressed in black dresses and tuxedos, singing with the same perfect diction and disciplined hearts that I remembered from my own experience. Their voices reverberated through the cathedral, weaving between their excited bodies up on the risers, forging an experience that they would never, not one of them, forget. I wept. Sobbed, really. I watched a mother in the audience in front of me rock her toddler in time with the music. When their part was over, the choir members filed off the steps and back to their seats, lining up to hug Mr. Raddin along the way. I cried at that, too. I remember hugging him. I remember being that devoted, that grateful.
And then I got to see him again, talk to him and his beautiful wife and adorable kids. He had about 45 seconds before he had to resume his teaching duties, getting his choir reassembled to take a picture in the back of the cathedral. I showed him pictures of my babies. I congratulated him on his Emmy. Grammy. Yeah, whatever. I got a hug. He hadn't changed a bit.
As I watched the concert, and after I left, I had a million thoughts about music, relationships, parenting, accomplishment, and belonging, swirling like five-part harmonies in a baroque chorale in my head. In a lifetime of music, look what a huge impact one person and two years can have.
I hope I can give some of that to my daughters. We have lots of songbooks already and have more waiting on the baby registry. (Yes, that's at http://www.amazon.com/). I've sung them lullabies, Mexican nursery rhymes, and show tunes. Though as a child I didn't think it would be possible to raise children without knowing how to play the guitar -- a lesson I learned from Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music" -- I am doing my best with my voice and my CD player. And the keyboard is in the basement in case we get in a bind with my sightreading.
One miracle is that the babies have been asleep for an extra 52 minutes to let me write this whole post. Another miracle is the number of people who have shared their music and their love with me over the course of my life. Mr. Raddin is an extraordinary example, but he is only one of many. I hope, hope, hope that my girls have as rich a musical life as I have had. I hope they get as thick a coating of love. And I hope that my impact on this world, through music, art, or anything else, can be half as strong as Mr. Raddin's.
Hallelujia. Hallelujia. Hallelujia. Hallelujia. Ha-leeeeeiiiii-luuuuuui-yaaaaaaaaaaaa.