Tag Archives: music

A Place For Me

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Faith formation, hospitality and being included

Last weekend I was blessed to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime event.  Through a series of music and church connections, I “wrangled” an invitation to sing in the Diocesan choir for the Dedication Mass of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Ground was broken for this space 3 years ago, the Cathedral for the Diocese of Knoxville, a diocese which was established in May, 1988 by Pope John Paul II.

I am not Roman Catholic, but I think I understand the momentous nature of an occasion like this, which makes me doubly grateful for the privilege of participating.  Glenn, the director of the music, not only allowed me to sing, but welcomed me.  His welcome took me back to my childhood when I was so often welcomed by other people of the Catholic faith.

About halfway down Ford Street lived Beth Sedgwick and her daughter, Mary Lim.  These sweet ladies were devout Catholics, wonderful neighbors who welcomed me in to visit whenever I popped by after school, or earlier in the day if it was summertime, always unannounced.  Usually with a dog in tow, I’d knock on their massive front door, and Mary Lim, long ago paralyzed in a car crash, would usually roll to the door in her wheelchair and let us in, laughing as the dog jumped up to give her kisses.  I began visiting them with my brother Reed at first, then later on after he got busy and I got a little bigger, I would go and visit them on my own…except when a dog accompanied me, of course.

They would usually be sitting at their dining room table, with the newspaper, needlework, decks of cards and crossword puzzles, and there was always a place open for me.  These women taught me about praying the rosary when I asked what “those pretty beads” were, although I have long since forgotten how to do it.  There was lovely religious artwork throughout their home, and anytime I asked about a picture or a crucifix, they patiently explained its meaning to me, knowing that I and my parents were Christian, but not Roman Catholic, and there were elements in their artwork that I didn’t understand.  Mostly, though, they taught me about their faith—-and about my own—- simply by welcoming me in.

Flash forward nearly 4 decades, after our little neighborhood was replaced by the South Knoxville bridge, the Sedgwicks had long since passed away and much life had happened for the rest of us.  I found myself surrounded by the glorious space of this new Cathedral, many unfamiliar faces, and a small group of friends from both Knoxville Choral Society and Ebenezer United Methodist Church who helped make it possible for me to witness this dedication and participate in it.  Enveloped by music, warmth and the fragrance of incense, I felt Mrs. Sedgwick and Mary Lim with me, swelling with the solemn joy they would have felt to see this new space dedicated and the Diocese united in both humility and celebration.

I am not Roman Catholic…but because I sing, there was, once again, a place for me.

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Days And Decades

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How 15 hours became 20 years…

Today is the 20th anniversary of Mama’s death…but just barely.  December 8 was just a couple of hours old when she drew that last breath and moved from here to Heaven.  So while this is technically the anniversary, I always spend December 7 remembering…reliving…her last day of life, and spending it with her.

I arrived at Baptist Hospital around 11:30 that cold, grey Sunday morning, to relieve Dad, who had spent the night before with her.  He told me that, after being unresponsive for over 12 hours, she had awakened in the middle of the night, and they had a conversation.  She said she knew she would die soon, and that she was not afraid.  His recollection of that exchange shook me, hard and deep.  As we chatted briefly, he made a note to send to their financial advisor on Mama’s hospital menu for that day.  I remarked that I probably had a blank sheet of paper he could use, and he said no, the menu would be fine, especially since it documented the date and his note was an instruction for an account change that needed to be done before the end of the calendar year.  He was, and still is, careful and astute in financial matters.  We hugged goodbye and I told him to go home and get some sleep, that I’d see him later.

Just minutes after he left, Mama’s face changed, as did her breathing, echoing through the room with “the death rattle” I had often heard mentioned in older people’s conversations, but had only heard with my own ears a few times.  It didn’t register with me right away that she had begun actively dying, but over the course of the day it sank in.  In about a half hour a nurse came in to check Mama’s vital signs, and she asked how long her breathing had been like that.  When I answered, this sweet nurse just came and put her arm around my shoulder, telling me that she didn’t think Mama was in any pain or distress, that I could talk or sing to her, pet her and love her, because nothing was bothering her now.  I think now that this nurse may have been an angel; I don’t remember having seen her at any other time during our hospital stay; I can’t recall her name or face or hair color; I only remember her words and the feel of her arm around me.

For her last 15 hours, Mama and I shared that little space together, mostly alone except for nurses and CNAs coming in to check her vital signs and to ask if I was all right, if I needed anything.  We only had a few visitors, including a hospital social worker and her husband, who circled around and prayed with us, and my cousins Judy and Ann, who came that night just hours before Mama died.  There were some phone calls through the day, but mostly many hours of stillness.  Mama never awoke that last day, but I spoke to her, and I know she was aware of my presence…my love.

Flash forward to last week when I was messaging with a friend and telling him about Mama’s anniversary coming up.  He expressed understanding of my residual grief.  We talked on about the state of current affairs, the world, and concerns over what we, as individuals and as a culture, may leave behind.  I tried to reassure him that he is sending light into a world that sometimes seems very dark.

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And I realized something.  Those last priceless hours I shared with Mama shaped the way I view my years, and how I want to spend whatever time I have left.  When it is time for me to leave this world, I hope I am remembered for the moments I shared with others…one on one and bunches of us together, moments of music and silence, times we laughed until we cried, ate until we belched and then laughed some more, hugs and smiles and being genuine with one another (I don’t really know how to be any other way).  If my moments are meaningful, then my years will be worthwhile.

In her last 15 hours of life, Mama taught me just as much as she did in the 58 years that preceded them.  What a gift!  If my days and decades are a tiny fraction as full as hers were, I will leave something good behind me here when I leave.

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Time To Go Home

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Timing is all…

Wednesday, August 30, 2017, was an intense day.  My emotions ran the gamut from profound sadness to overwhelming love to incredible joy, over the course of both hours and moments.  I’m actually still trying to process it all, and in doing so, I’ve spent a bit more time lately just keeping to myself and being still.

It was the beginning of my work week as Wednesdays always are, but with a distinct change in the middle of the day when I took a 3-hour lunch to go and sing for a funeral at Messiah Lutheran Church, where I sang and served from 2013-2016.  The associate pastor’s mother had died, and I adore both pastor and mom.  Being asked to offer music for this occasion both honored and humbled me, as I would have attended the service even had I not been singing.

Even the most seasoned of musicians sometimes feel nervous, especially when called upon to provide music for funerals and memorials.  It is only natural.  And nerves visited me as well.  My friend and #firsteverworkhusband Martin, knew how much I love this family, and how important the service was to me.  We exchanged messages first thing in the morning and throughout the day.  I had gathered a little token of love for Pastor Pauline to take with me and give her prior to the service, along with a big hug.  A reminder that she has not lost her marbles.

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As I had predicted, my singing was not easy or perfect, but it was, as I told Mother Farrington’s grandchildren afterward, with my speaking voice breaking,  “…a way for me to love your family…”  Reuniting with my former “choir boss”,  Joan, to make music for this service comforted me, and being back among this church family warmed my heart and made me feel loved.  As I have come to understand, musicians and people of faith are all part of the same family;  we never really say goodbye and we always recognize and welcome one another back.

I left the fellowship hall and I walked to my car with tears of sadness, gratitude and love…and I thought the intense part of my day had passed.  Knowing that Martin had held space for me meant the world to me, especially with everything he has endured this year…a transitional period in his relationship, his health, undergoing medical procedures, and his living situation, including being without a home for months and staying with friends/family, and in shelters ranging from tolerable to hellish.  His, and my, fondest wish, had been for him to find a place to live, and that process seemed to be taking longer than forever to happen.  Until this intense day.  Almost the minute I returned to work, Martin ping’ed me with a message.

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Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that feathers are for me a symbol, a powerful reminder that God is there, looking out for me and my loved ones, sending comfort when I need it in a language I can understand.  When this teeny feather floated down after the funeral and landed on the program, I assumed it was just for my benefit…turned out to be a harbinger of Martin’s wonderful news as well.  That his housing came through at the same time I sang and we were commending Mother Farrington to her home in Heaven…seemed, and still seems, especially poignant, and fitting.  For her, and for Martin, it was time to go Home.

Home.

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Duets

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Longtime friendship, faith and music…

As an incoming college freshman in the fall of 1982, I was meeting tons of new people and enjoying the process of finding my place in what was essentially a new world.  I realized quickly that some of these new people would be acquaintances with whom I’d share the occasional class, some would become close friends throughout the 4 years of school…and some would remain in my life for the rest of my life.  Then there were the few who came into my life, vanished from it and reappeared years later.

Marc was one of that last category of people.  We met as freshmen at Carson-Newman College (now University) and, as we were both music majors, we had a number of classes together.  I liked this fellow right away. His boyish good looks, beautiful tenor voice, easy smile and sweet spirit drew me to him immediately and we became fast friends.  Spring semester found us both singing in A Cappella Choir and sharing long hours on the bus together as we toured during spring break.

He decided the following year to change schools, and we lost touch after that.  I often joke that he “abandoned” me, (which always gets an eye-roll and a quick retort!) but I realized he was following God’s path for him, just as I followed mine by remaining where I was.  I thought of him so often in the years that followed…but I never followed through on trying to find him.

Flash forward to 2011, the beginning of the season for Knoxville Choral Society.  I was talking with my friend Tina and heard the name “Marc” and asked what Marc and where?  She pointed in his direction, I turned, and he and I both looked in shock at one another, recognizing long-lost faces and voices and yelling, “YOU!”  And pointing at each other like we were school children.  Hugs and laughs and stories followed…and the reconnection was forged.

He started singing at Messiah Lutheran the year before I did, and after I joined him there, we were blessed to sing in the choirs together, and to join our voices on many duets.  Our voices blend in a way that I can only describe as magical…and together, we have been able to create and enjoy some truly memorable moments.  When we sing and things are working right, the joy I feel is almost overwhelming.  He left Messiah and went to Ebenezer United Methodist, where I ended up accepting a call a couple of years later (I fear he will tire of me “following” him from church to church!)  And there, too, we have shared duets and delights, and I hope those continue for a long time to come.

Musicians are people first, and as such, we bring our issues with us every time we sing.  Sometimes those things keep us from achieving our musical and spiritual best. And sometimes, for lack of a  better description, we are blessed to be able to “sing them out”, experiencing catharsis, cleansing and healing.  Those moments, I believe, are little glimpses of Heaven on Earth…and I am so grateful to be able to share them with Marc in a way that only the two of us can fully comprehend.

Today, on Marc’s birthday, I share this thumbnail sketch of him, our friendship,  and our partnership in music and in faith.  And I share some pictures from the last few years, a little sad that there are none of us together from our college days. But I am so grateful for the renewed connection with him, my partner in crime…and in duets.

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Hats

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The ones we wear, and the ones that wear us…

Every year shortly before Christmas, my chorus, The Knoxville Choral Society, collaborates with The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra for The Clayton Holiday Concerts, a Christmas tradition in our area for some 30 years and counting.  Concert week is hectic, with late night rehearsals and, for those of us with day jobs, work as usual and 4 shows over 3 days that weekend.  It’s a grueling, exhilarating and fun time of camaraderie for all of us.

Backstage at the venue a few years ago I took the time to pay closer attention to my surroundings than I had in the past.  Among the many quirky artifacts I noticed were numerous hats hung up on a wall.  I assume many of them are costume pieces from theatrical productions held there over the years, although some may be actual hats from firemen, soldiers, ball players and other professionals who wanted to leave their mark backstage.

Hats were invented to provide warmth, shelter and protection from the elements.  Over time they became fashion statements as well as parts of the unform for various professions.  Designs also vary from place to place and culture to culture, both for professional and decorative headwear.

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In the Stone Age when I was setting up my social media profile, I gave a thumbnail sketch of my life and the roles I play…the hats I wear.

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No one among us is just one thing, after all.  We all wear many different hats, filling roles as life circumstances call us to do.  Switching from one hat to the next sometimes feels frantic, as we shift among our various roles and responsibilities.  We juggle so many activities and demands from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour.  Some of the hats we wear weigh heavily on our heads, our hearts, as we face hard choices, regarding our health or the health of a loved one.  Sometimes a hat may feel too tight, if we are in a job or a relationship that doesn’t fit us.  Sometimes the hat just doesn’t flatter us or bring out the most attractive qualities in us.  Sometimes it even feels as though, rather than us wearing the hat, the hat wears us.  You get the idea.

We hope to craft for ourselves a life that works, with hats that fit, flatter and feel good.  I hope the hats you wear today sit lightly and comfortably upon you, bringing out your best and giving you warmth, protection and shelter from life’s storms.  (And it doesn’t hurt if they’re cute, too!)

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Five Years And A Thousand Words

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My own personal D-Day…

Today, June 6, 2017, is the 5th anniversary of my weight loss surgery.  I kept a blog chronicling my journey from the initial consultation with my surgeon on October 25, 2011, through the 2-year anniversary of the surgery itself, writing the final post on June 6, 2014.  Those stories, trials and tribulations still live in Cyberspace at:

http://www.incredibleshrinkingdiva.blogspot.com

I hope people still stumble across that blog and gain some insight, inspiration, information and humor from it.  For numerous reasons, I did not include photographs in that blog.  It just was not part of the journey I felt like sharing at the time.  However, I admit there is truth in the adage that, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  So on this, my 5-year-Surg-I-Versary, I am posting some before-and-after pictures…with some caveats.

I have bounced back from my lowest weight, more than I would like.  And I am working on shaving some of those pounds away.  It is a lifelong journey and my weight will always be something of a struggle.  That is all part and parcel of this process.  Even with my bounceback, I am profoundly grateful that I am not where I started.  I am stronger and healthier than before surgery and I am free from the hip and ankle pain that drove me to pursue surgical intervention after having exhausted every other means available to me.  Weight loss surgery is a true last resort and should only be considered when all other measures have failed.  Knowing all that I know now, I would make the same decision.  For me, it was what I needed, when I needed it.

So, here are some pictures.

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With my longtime friend Mary K. Briggs, April 2010 and March 2017

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With my husband, Sweet Pea aka Jeff Cutshaw, August 2010 and April 2016

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With friend and singing partner Marc Hampton, November 2011 and April 2017

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With mentor in music and weight loss Eric Thorson, November 2010 and December 2017

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With Delta Omicron sisters and friends Allison Hendrix and Ann Jones, July 2009 and July 2015

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Me.  Just plain old me.  July 2009 and April 2017.

I’m not where I want to be, but thanks be to God, I’m not where I used to be.  Life is good and I’m healthy.  I am blessed and greatly loved.  I am thankful.

Take Me There

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Radio days…

This time of year always brings with it a tsunami-sized wave of nostalgia, memories of holiday seasons past and the people who fill those memories.  Sights, smells, flavors and especially sounds, fill my head and heart with both laughter and longing as I recall the many hours I spent “on the board” working in radio stations playing Christmas songs in the solitude of a tiny studio, music unheard at any other time of year except in my memories.

Working on the air was, for me, a chance to touch people without ever seeing them.  Different from live performance in that I spoke to an audience I couldn’t see, radio also allowed my listeners to imagine what I might be like without ever laying eyes on me.  I had regular callers at every station I worked for who, for the most part, were friendly, polite and respectful…even those who flirted and asked me out, sight unseen!  There were also occasional callers who made me feel uncomfortable, even threatened.  Anyone who has ever been on the air has experienced such things, especially my fellow “lady jocks”.  We all have stories to tell!

I’ve been out of the business for a long time now, but listening to the radio this time of year always takes me back to specific times and places.  I can’t hear Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Auld Lang Syne” without being transported to the top of Sharps Ridge, remembering the view from the studio window…often with my friend Ron visiting after finishing his own air shift at another radio station across town, drinking coffee and smiling at me from across the console.  This is the same Ron with whom I shared my shortest radio gig and built one of my longest friendships, until he passed away last year. That relationship is not over…it’s just changed until we’re in the same place again.

A simple song can take me there.

The synth intro to Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” immediately returns me to my first radio gig in a tiny building in the Florida panhandle.  I worked in the AM studio where I played Southern Gospel music and preaching/teaching programs, while next door the FM station aired “Light Rock & A Little Country”, hence the Paul McCartney holiday offering.  I cut my radio teeth there, learning how to do everything the old-school way because of the antiquated equipment I worked with.  My real-life husband and my first ever “work husband” worked on the FM side, with the work husband and me sharing a shift time and often standing in each others’ studio doors talking and laughing between songs on automation.

A simple song can take me there.

Music is such an evocative force in my life, whether I am singing it or listening to it.  The music I played during my radio days is especially poignant.  Those sounds bring to mind both the places and the people with whom I shared them.

A simple song can always take me there.

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(At my first radio gig, Circe 1989)