Who needs a calendar? It’s easy to tell when it’s holiday time because Santa Clara Catholic Church in Oxnard is packed like a Christmas ham in a can. The pews are crammed, aisles jammed and communion takes twice as long. The reunited faithful spill out the doorways into the vestibule and we have to close the lower choir loft door to shut out the noise. At Midnight Mass, it’s a wonder the Fire Marshal doesn’t show up. Topsides, we crooners of sacred music know who’s late, or didn’t show up, what the latest fashions are and who’s using Rogaine. Visitors are easy to spot from above because they spend a lot of time looking around at the gorgeous 1903 gothic architecture with the requisite, appreciative smile on their faces.
Some folks, those who center their hearts and minds beyond the commercial blather of pop-eyed talking trees, Santa’s bony knees and “your friend in the whatever business,” discover a spiritual ember glowing within. As with any good ember, if a raging fire is desired then some work to fan-up the flames is required. Spiritual stoking tools are found in churches, temples and shrines.
Some attend under a mild, begrudging protest. They recognize that it is much easier to get-up, get dressed and march into church for an hour of Good Book preaching than endure the steady ration of hell-on-earth that mom will deliver (like only a mother can) if they don’t. With all those extra people in God’s house, there is a considerable increase of body heat, and heat rises . . . and well, now its easy to understand why we have three fans running in the choir loft when its 40 degrees outside.
Every Sunday more than five-dozen tenors, sopranos, altos, contraltos, basses and baritones climb the belfry stairway to sing our hearts out with the mighty Schoenstein pipe organ played by Trudy Hayes. Only a handful has ever had any formal voice training. Most of us learned to sing in the shower, or join-in with the car radio. We volunteer warblers are religious in our ability to give the Choir Director heartburn with our musical miscarriages.
We try out best not to screw up the composer’s beautifully arranged music and lyrics. Alas, someone will start singing too soon, or hang onto to a note too long; self-appointed divas try to out-sing everyone else instead of harmoniously blending-in like the angelic bunch we’re supposed to be. Mercy me, the Benedictine monks of “Chant” fame would cringe at some of the back-fence, full-moon-at-midnight cat-scratch screeching we have managed to deliver to the congregation at times.
Coming downstairs, still smarting from the blunders, we try to be invisible, but the little laminated badges and honking big black choir folders make us as prominent as convicts at a tea party. Flowing out into the crowd, a worshiper once grabbed me by the arm. Ready to wince, bracing for the worse, I instead get blindsided with a double throw-down miracle.
“The choir sounded so beautiful”, the lady with eyes all aglow gushed, “you sang like angels!” I looked around to see if she had a bump on her head, something that could explain the delusion she had just verbalized. “It’s been so long since I’ve been to church,” she continued”, the music, the organ, the singing, it all made me feel closer to God.”
Holy Skmolee! Dumbfounded, all I can manage is a feeble, yet grateful “thank you.” Yep, it’s a sure-fire way to tell it’s Christmastime. That babe born in a manger, of lowly estate, stills holds the key to fanning the flames of faith two thousands years later. Believe me when I tell you that what comes out of our choir-loft mouths is not always the same thing that goes into the pew-bound ears of the people below.
God Blesses us, every one.
This subject has been bouncing around inside my head for a few years and I though it was about time to get my thoughts onto paper.