We Became Her Choir
Lynne is the firstborn of the six siblings in my family. She took the lead on many things, including caring for us when Mom and Dad were both either at work or out of action for one tragic reason or another.
In addition to that, she was also trying to grow up during a difficult time in American history: the 1960’s. Lynne was old enough to understand what was going on around the world and within our family.
She was in her teens and couldn’t find lipstick to complement her skin color.
She saw war, assassinations, and race riots through a thirteen-channel black and white television.
She stood in the welfare food line with Mom and knew exactly why she was there and her friends were not.
Lynne endured a lot. She must have decided that if she also had to put up with the five of us, then she was going to make good use of the time.
So we became her choir.
Lynne and my oldest brother Marvin were members of their school’s Glee Club, a group of students who met to sing and perform. Lynne would teach us what they learned, and one Christmas season she taught us how to sing Do You Hear What I Hear?
Written in October of 1962, the song was a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It has a precious melody wrapped around words of hope.
Lynne worked long and hard with us, and she was serious about her goal. She loved that song. She would sing the words and then make sure we repeated them in tune, correctly and clearly. She had no sheet music. There was no need for it: Lynne, like the rest of us, could pick notes out of the air. She had memorized what she learned at Glee Club. The music poured out of her heart and straight into ours.
And the words! I traveled the journey as I sang: From the sky to the lamb to the boy to the king to the Child. The description of the star “with a tail as big as a kite” and the song “with a voice as big as the sea” made me shiver with wonder.
Lynne went beyond teaching us just the melody. Besides the echo, there was a line that sang counterpoint to the last verse of the carol. There are no words, just an “Ahhh…,” in a soft and lilting melody.
And so, we sang. We followed our leader as she waved her hands and moved us through each verse. We had no audience. Our choir made its offering to the bedroom walls.
Yet we sang our hearts out, despite the overhanging gloom that poverty brings, for our sister’s reward and the pure pleasure and escape that singing brings.
Here are the words to the song:
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Said the night wind to the little lamb,
“Do you see what I see? (echo)
Way up in the sky, little lamb,
Do you see what I see? (echo)
A star, a star, dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite,
With a tail as big as a kite.”
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,
“Do you hear what I hear? (echo)
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear? (echo)
A song, a song high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea,
With a voice as big as the sea.”
Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
“Do you know what I know? (echo)
In your palace warm, mighty king,
Do you know what I know? (echo)
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold–
Let us bring him silver and gold,
Let us bring him silver and gold.”
Said the king to the people everywhere,
“Listen to what I say! (echo)
Pray for peace, people, everywhere,
Listen to what I say! (echo)
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light,
He will bring us goodness and light.”
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:23
Do You Hear What I Hear? lyrics by Noël Regney and music by Gloria Shayne Baker, 1962. Click here for the original recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale.
The Sunset, the Symphony, and the Gift
I cannot recall anything I said or did that would cause my parents to think I wanted a Magnus electric chord organ.
Yet there it was, next to the Christmas tree, fully assembled, with my name on the gift tag. Brand new and with a bench.
I had an ear for music, like everyone else in my family. But playing a keyboard?
Did a teacher mention something to my parents? There were pianos in classrooms back when I went to school. Maybe I had hopped up and tried to play the instrument, and a teacher caught something in my eye that she recognized.
It is a mystery. My parents didn’t have money to buy a luxury like an electric organ. Yet, somehow it came to be: a musical instrument that wasn’t a loaner I had to give back at the end of the school year.Continue reading
December Story of the Month: My Number One Childhood Christmas Memory
Though my mother loved Christmas decorations and the legend of Santa Claus, she was clear with her children about the true meaning of Christmas. The holiday would not pass without the telling of the holy story.
That brings me to my favorite childhood Christmas memory of all.
One of the words I use to describe my mother is resourceful. She used what she had to run our household, and she made sure that we children did the same. Money was scarce, and we didn’t ask for much. Perhaps that is what made Christmas so special for us. After a full year of not asking, we received something.Continue reading
Childhood Christmas Memory: Dad’s Big Surprise
Here’s one of my favorite childhood Christmas memories.
We had finished all preparations for Christmas Day: a decorated house, a trimmed tree, a Nativity scene, and a plate of cookies for Santa. The only thing left was a good night’s sleep with dreams of what we might find under the tree.
There were three bedrooms in our house: one for Mom and Dad, one for the three boys, and one for the three girls. Mom and Dad’s room was closest to the living room; then came the boys’ room; and finally, the girls’ room was in the back.
It was not easy for six Christmas-giddy kids to do, but when Mom yelled that it was time for bed, we obeyed.Continue reading