Choir!

Hey! The director of the choir where I used to sing (or, more accurately, pretended to sing) said I could come back. Even though I was with the choir for about three years, last weekend I revisited his summer workshop for newbies. Since I’m very naive about music—never learned an instrument and can’t read music—every time this guy opens his mouth I learn something new.

It’s ironic that even though I’m strongly averse to organized religion, my life has been so miserable since I left my husband that going to church has been about its highest point. To the extent that I have any sense of the noumenal, it barely rises to the level of agnostic, and my family has a dark history with organized churches that rings through the ages like time’s endless echo.

I joined the choir for several reasons: first, because I’d attended a number of services and realized the impressive music program was effectively delivering a free, very high-quality chamber music concert almost every Sunday; then because each summer the choir used to travel to Europe and sing in various elegant venues; and finally, because this particular church is a node of old Phoenix’s upper-crust society and I hoped to meet an eligible man.

Well, wouldn’t you know I’d take up this crass reasoning in 2001. After 9/11, the planned trip to Italy was canceled when the State Department issued an advisory urging that Americans not go there. The director probably would have canceled anyway, since he and about half of his followers were frightened enough to be wary of air travel, but the advisory made up his mind.

That notwithstanding, I found I loved singing in the very fine music program, and even though I didn’t buy into the religious dogma, sitting in the choir loft following the ritual as it evolved through the seasons had an effect much like meditation: it forces you to focus on something other than yourself and your petty woes. And I liked the people a lot.

This worked out well for two or three years, until I moved from teaching to low-level administration. In teaching, you get to work any 18 hours of the day you choose. Establishing and directing a high-profile operation housed in the dean’s office required fewer hours, but I needed to be on campus from eight in the morning till five or six at night, to which was added a commute that took an hour each way. This left only the weekends in which to do survival tasks and maintenance work, which around this place are considerable.

I’d joined the chant choir as well as the senior choir, so I was singing Saturdays at evensong as well as every Sunday morning. There just weren’t enough hours in a two-day weekend to handle all the work that had to be done and spend half the day on Sunday plus late Saturday afternoon down at the church. And some nights I’d arrive at Wednesday evening choir practice so tired I literally could not hold a conversation—by eight o’clock I could barely speak, much less sing and far less understand what the director was trying to teach us and remember it until Sunday.

Then came the day that a guest speaker took the pulpit and told us that if we didn’t buy into George Bush’s agenda in the Middle East, we were not good Christians and not good Americans.

I just went right through the roof. I don’t consider myself a good, bad, or any Christian. But I am a loyal patriot, one who has lived in the Middle East a long time, and by then I could see the road that man was leading us down. Any halfway conscious entity who looked hard at it should have been able to see it. It was clear to me at the time that this country was headed toward disaster, the very disaster we see manifest today and that, oh believe me, my friends, has barely begun: the harm the Cheney-Bush administration wreaked upon this country will not resolve itself in my lifetime and possibly not in my son’s. And since most of the readers of this blog are my son’s age…well: you see the cause of my acute annoyance.

I hung around for a couple more weeks, hoping that I could climb down off the ceiling, and I talked to the newly installed priest about the effect these ill-considered and (IMHO) insulting words had, suggesting he might want to allow a response. This didn’t register…mostly, it appears, because he had too many other problems to cope with. So I quit.

As it develops, he’s no longer with us. Apparently he had a difficult time with the complex politics of this particular urban parish, a little more yeasty, I guess, than it appears on the surface. I’m sorry to hear that, because he was a good man. A new pastor has been hired and is on his way to pick up the reins as I scribble. The guest speaker, a much respected, otherwise politically liberal rabbi who has been an Arizona fixture for decades, is now too elderly to have much more to say.

So. We’ll see. I hope this works out.

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