With a song in my heart Print
Grand Mom
Thursday, Mar. 19, 2009 -- 12:00 AM
Grand Mom by Audrey Mettel Fixmer

Recently, a young man on American Idol sang a "modern" song, one of those all-beat-and-no-sense. I used to complain that I couldn't understand the words, but now that my TV has the words printed on the bottom of the screen and I can actually understand them, I know I wasn't missing much. And nothing rhymes. How can they memorize them? Oh, yes, they just repeat one phrase a hundred times.

In a recent interview, one of these guys whose voice seemed spectacular despite the song said that his vocal music training had come primarily from church choirs. Two thoughts came to my mind: He should have stuck with the church music and where have I heard that before?

Many famous singers got their first exposure to music through church choirs and went on from there. A few stuck to sacred music or gospel music; a few, perhaps, studied at conservatories, but most chose to go the popular routes and made lots of money. And then there are the rest of us, who simply developed a love of music that endures into old age.

A lifetime of music

I belong to the latter group. In elementary school (St. Joseph's in Elgin, Ill.) our kids' choir sang every day, usually a requiem in Latin. I can still sing parts of the Dies Irie (and it's handy for crossword puzzles). During Holy Week we seemed to spend all day everyday in school learning the parts or in church singing them. Those were kind of dreary songs. But on Easter we sang triumphant songs. We sang for feast days and fast days and all the days between. I was confined to the alto section, and I looked with envy on some of the "stars" in my class who sang soprano and sang solos.

In high school (at Madonna in Aurora), I jumped at the chance to learn trumpet. It happened that they needed trumpets that year, and so I was given the opportunity to rent a trumpet for 25 cents a semester. They threw in weekly private lessons . . . free. I was soon in the school orchestra where I learned to read music, wait for my turn, and appreciate and recognize each of the other instruments. The extent of my formal training.

I think it was also my informal training, harmonizing with my three sisters while we did dishes, that made me cherish singing. My sister, Grace, used to buy a pulp paper magazine every week called the Song Hit Folio for a dime. In it were the words to every new popular song. We learned most of them by heart, and to this day when one comes on the air I can sing along.

Praising God in song

My grandson, Dylan, is going into his senior year at the University of Colorado, where he is majoring in music education. Last month he gave his private recital on trumpet. The very thought of anyone playing straight through for 10 or 15 mutes straight on a trumpet hurts my lips. He shared the stage with a violinist and pianist, and the numbers they did together were some he composed and arranged.

I wish I could have been there to hear how far he has come. With all that formal education, a lifetime of piano and guitar besides, he stands in sharp contrast to those of us who had to settle for singing Holy Week in the church choir and playing taps on Memorial Day.

I, however, am happy today to settle for getting my singing-fix along with the 20 or more daily Mass goers in our parish. They last me all day, what with singing them in my head or humming them until the next one erases the previous.

Thank God for church music. Praising God in song is still the best.

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