The Mystic Chords Of Memory


Music, moments and bringing Mama along…

I have just returned from what can only be described as the adventure of a lifetime.  Knoxville Choral Society took a group of singers to New York City to premiere local composer John Purifoy’s “Chronicles of Blue and Gray” at Carnegie Hall!  We met up with several other choruses from around the United States to rehearse for a couple of days and gel ourselves into a unified chorus to perform this masterpiece, the first major work of its kind in choral literature in that it commemorates the Civil War period of American history.  Knoxville Choral Society commissioned this work in honor of our esteemed conductor and artistic director, Dr. Eric “Doc” Thorson.  Without him, and the desire of so many people to honor him, this work would not exist and our Carnegie Hall pilgrimage to premiere it for the New York audience likely would never have happened.  John Purifoy’s labor of love in crafting this poignant and moving work has touched many people and I pray that it will touch many more for generations to come.  It deserves to be heard my as many people, in as many places, as possible.

There are so many moments from the trip that I will always remember, the first being a “wow” moment in my ongoing weight loss journey.  For the first time ever, I flew in planes where the seat belts not only fit around me but had room to spare.  As large as I was, for as long as I was, this was a huge relief.


I made the acquaintance of a number of our singers I did not know before (and who are now Facebook friends as well, so we can continue getting to know one another better).  I am short, so I generally sit down front and don’t see a lot of the people behind me. That will change when we start back for the fall.  I will venture out of my section more and try to be more social.  And several people I knew casually became wonderful friends on this trip.  My friends Jenny and Jere graciously welcomed me on their pilgrimage to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, my one for-sure bucket list item. As we walked around that magnificent place, I was astonished at the beauty even amid all the scaffolding there right now for renovation.  And my friends stood by as I lit a candle and offered a prayer in that sacred space.  We stayed for mass as well, my first Roman Catholic mass ever.  And at St. Patrick’s to boot!  Even a sarcastic varmint like me can find holiness in a place like that, and since it was our first night there, it helped to set the tone for the rest of the trip for me.


I serve as Chapter Mother for Alpha Gamma Chapter of Delta Omicron International Music Fraternity at  Carson-Newman University, my alma mater and the chapter I was initiated into as a college student.  Two of my Delta Omicron students made the trip with us. Katie Brown and her mother came and sang, and it did my heart good to see a mother and daughter joining together for this experience, even as I missed my own precious Mama.  Katie Jo O’Neal came as well and I had the pleasure of sharing a hotel room with her.  She and I really had the chance to get to know each other, for which I will forever be grateful.  We are goofball kindred spirits, bonded together by music, faith and humor.  Seeing young musicians grow and stretch makes my heart swell with pride.


(Katie Jo, me and Katie Brown—I’m the filling in the middle of a Katie sandwich and it’s awesome!)

Katie Jo and I shared a room with Rebecca, a lovely woman who was a pleasure to get to know.  She and I shared some wonderful, meaningful talks in the evenings while Katie Jo was still out and about town.  We more “mature” ladies tended to return to the room earlier to settle in for the night!  Also, we need to take “selfie” lessons from Katie Jo, the undisputed master of the art form!


(Selfie fail with Rebecca)


(The Roomies)


Another mother-daughter team made the trip as well, my friend “Queen” Elizabeth Partridge and her sweet Mama, Susan.  Susan did not sing with us but she enjoyed the trip plenty, sightseeing, shopping and graciously sharing a couple of meals and a lovely carriage ride around Central Park.  It was so sweet to see their relationship, and it made me wonder what mine would be like with Mama if she were still here.  I’d like to think we would get along as well as Elizabeth and Susan do.  It was generous of Elizabeth to share her Mama with us.


(Elizabeth, Susan, Katie Jo and me)


(Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mother Susan)

Elizabeth has lost a significant amount of weight in the last year as well, and another bucket list thing I wanted to do was get all dolled up in our Bombshell dresses and have a night out for dessert.  (I know, it’s paradoxical.  Don’t judge me.)  A little treat now and then is not only OK, it’s necessary.  We were completely overdressed, but we went to Junior’s Cheesecakes for dessert and sashayed in like we owned the place.  Dessert was delicious and the company was delightful!  Afterward we walked around, shopping and taking in the sights, sounds and aromas of the Theatre DIstrict and Hell’s Kitchen.  We both enjoyed playing dress-up and, if I do say so myself, we cleaned up pretty well.  And another “wow” moment was that we walked around for about an hour and a half, and I was wearing heels! Before surgery and weight loss, that would have been unthinkable.


I shared a story with John, the composer, when the idea of a trip to Carnegie Hall was just being discussed, over a year ago.  Back when Mama was still with us, Knoxville Choral Society talked about a very slim chance of taking a trip there.  When I mentioned it to Mama, she was over the moon with excitement.  She said, “If you all take a group up there, you HAVE GOT to go!  Daddy and I will help you pay for the trip, whatever needs to happen, if you have a chance to go to Carnegie Hall, you’ve got to do it!”  That trip ended up never happening.  In the ensuing years Mama became ill and died, I let singing go for many years and that dream was all but forgotten.  

Flash forward 20-some years to now, when I finally made it to Carnegie Hall.  I told John and numerous other people I’d be bringing Mama with me the only way I could—her picture in my folder as I sang.  I carried her and others along as well: Sweet Pea and Our Boy Roy, Aunt Ruby, “Doc”, who for several reasons did not make the trip with us, and Dr. Teague, my college voice teacher.  But Mama was the one who held the Carnegie Hall dream in her heart.  We finally made it.  

On concert day, John and I spoke before we entered the hall and he reminded me of my story and asked to see Mama’s picture.  I was humbled that he remembered such a detail on what had to be one of the most monumental days of his life!  And I was proud to show him my folder and all the people I brought along.




Mama was with me.  She is always with me.  We are indeed surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses”, as John and I reminded each other before the concert.  Mothers and daughters, the ones together on Earth and the ones separated briefly between here and Heaven…musicians past, present and future…the bonds of faith…the melody of music and the harmony of humor…the mystic chords of memory.



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