Today's How Sweet the Sound reminded me of our Sunday mornings when Chris and I were first married---the song was part of our Sunday morning getting-ready-for-church time. We'd sing along with this one, and Take My Hand, all through breakfast and dressing and getting out the door, still humming or singing Lower Lights or Golden Bells in the car, all the way up the walk into the church doors. That little cassette held a lot of good music.
And Chris is down there this minute, at our little church---gone to visit his folks for a few days. I marked the time just now between "changing classes" between Sunday School and Church, then the little soft-speaking time as everyone took their pews, and the expectant hush which fell as the choir filed in. About now they’re making their way out into the Noonday, shaking hands and speaking and hugging babies, headed for the parking lot, where, if it’s not rainy or too cool, they’ll stand and greet and make plans and catch up on the week's doings with their neighbors.
Isn’t it lovely the feelings and memories that the music of our pasts evoke?
There’s the Sunday morning at our little small-town church, when the vast numbers of a local family all returned to the “Home Place” for a family gathering, to see one of the grandsons off into the Army. None of us knew of the bad time coming---the marking of this new beginning was really a closing and a finality for the gathering of that family, and I look back on that golden morning, with the sun streaming in the windows, as all the voices rang out in Amazing Grace and Make me a Blessing and God of Our Fathers. We sang Godspeed and Grace to that sweet young man, not dreaming we were bidding farewell to the linking of the family chain, which was never to be the same.
That Sunday, the rafters rang, just as they did the Sunday in September every year, when our small church hosted the All-Day-Singing-with-Dinner-on-the-Grounds. That was a gathering of remarkable, talented, totally-dedicated unsung singers who knew each other and every song in the worn little books they carried to a different church each Sunday of the Summer.
We knew the lady-who-sang-tenor by voice and face---Miss Artha was a pleasant woman, her Saturday-at-the-Beauty-Shop evident in the stiff sails of her poufy hair; her resemblance to Miss Vestal Goodman was even more pronounced, down to the sparkling rings on the hand holding the hanky. She was faintly kissed by celebrity amongst all the followers of the old-time music, and her Kitty Wells notes resounded over the quartet with the ease of a lifelong familiarity.
And then there were the twins who belonged on the Opry, and the different family groups, and the four men approaching their Eighties, who had sung these same songs together for decades, with an occasional wavery note making the effort all the more wonderful and endearing. All the visiting singers carried those little shape-notes folios---a great box of them was hauled out of a trunk and distributed to those of us whose experience of many of the songs was limited to this one time of year. I loved singing along, for the accustomed kinship of the music to most of those regulars was easy as breathing, and it made ME feel the ease, too.
And sometimes, for some songs, there would be an intensity in the air, a hum that was not of voices, but was akin to standing beneath the engines of an airplane---a power not of ourselves, not harnessable, like the swinging, surging notes of that old piano to I'll Fly Away---gripping and carrying, so that all you could do was jump in and hang on til the tide rolled in and deposited you, breathless, on the damp sand.
A Shape-Notes page. These could be read by folks who couldn't read music, and I'm sure some of them couldn't read the words, either, but knew them by heart.
Hosting The Singing was an honor to the church and the community, also a time for catching up on kin and friends from far churches and communities, stopping for a noon meal brought from far and wide, the platters of ham and fried chicken and nine kinds of potato salad from the local Church Ladies sitting side-by with the crocks of beans and the pound cake transported from The Hills and the pie and rolls from the kitchens of fine cooks in Tallahatchie County and Byhalia.
This one, by happenstance, is at Enon Church in Itawamba County, where I've been many times. I think it was even of my era, for I had a dress just like that.
One Easter Sunday, our own little choir sang the Gaither’s Alleluia, cover to cover. We had fifteen choir members---strong voices---soaring sopranos for the melody and descant, and right-on altos and tenors and good baritones, with one spectacular, cavern-deep bass. We had church members who played organ, piano, flute, drums, bass and guitar, and even the practice sessions seemed like a divine experience. The place was packed that Sunday morning, and the music was WAY beyond ourselves---another tide which swirled and danced and carried everyone to a lovely place.
How I’d love to hear those songs sung by all those people one more time---many of the voices are gone to another Choir now, and so many moved away or moved on. I have to feel that the notes are still somewhere, waiting for the next Edison to come and capture the sound waves and restore all those precious, lost tones. I think that WILL happen someday, that retrieval of the chords and notes and phrases, for miracles occur and are being invented every day.
Until the Possible, we’ll keep them alive by remembering. Please share your music memories, any and all.