Picture of Janet


Music of the Spheres

Reading Time: 5 minutes

SB and I held hands as we walked the paths of our friends’ home. Having experienced the European Christmas markets, these friends of ours had provided the means to a Texas version. There were stalls with kites and candies and Boy scouts selling Angus burgers. If the weather wasn’t dreary northern latitude it was classic winter Gulf coast and the lack of predicted rain made it seem like God was smiling brightly.  We were there after all to worship the Christ. (This particular collective body of visitors is part of a group that spends Sunday mornings with the hopes of becoming literate about the Bible.)

Meanwhile, in my hometown, 400 miles away, in a church in the little community of which I left at the age of 21, a man just post his 59th birthday was being laid to rest.  A majority of the classmates that I spent formative high school years would be in attendance at his service and I had been thinking about them and him.

“We sang in Acapella choir,” I told SB as we walked. He nodded. “Mike was a tenor. I heard they are going to play his solo of ‘Amen’ from our high school days at the service.” SB slightly squeezed my hand.

The smell of cookies, warm and chocolaty, wafted across the path we were walking, carried on the sunny breeze I had the image of young Mike in my head, not the older version from Face Book, after he was sick. I had heard they were going to talk about Mike’s athletic prowess at the service, some of which I was vaguely aware when we stood on the front row, he at one end and me at the other in our high school choir of 60.

“We were in some musical together. The choir put it on,” I continued with SB as we strolled. “I don’t remember much about it except that in it, for some reason, Mike and I were supposed to kiss.” SB looked at me with the disbelief he has always held when I provide evidence of my shyness in high school.

“It was an amazing kiss,” I said, trying to remember what it felt like for Mike’s lips to touch my virgin ones, remembering mostly that I wondered how actors made sure they didn’t have bad breath during love scenes.

“Don’t you have to go to a sectional or something,” SB asks. I should have lauded Mike’s athletic accomplishments, I think to myself.

I stroll to the chapel and SB gets out his smart phone, sports scores pouring out of its innards in liquid display as he sits on a low stone wall.

The ‘chapel’ is something peculiar to my friends’ home. The male member of this married couple is something of a frustrated architect and having dug into what the first Christian churches were like, he ran into  one of the earliest known examples, provided by a woman named Gertrude Bell. At the turn of the century Gertrude was traveling Turkey, taking photos. A British intelligence agent, I doubt she could have imagined that those small photography efforts and an obscure academic paper would lead to a replica church in Houston Texas. She might be less surprised that Ridley Scott would find her sufficiently interesting to negotiate with Angelina Jolie to play her in a movie.

It’s that replicated stone chapel where the sectional will be held and as I enter, I hear soprano voices warming to their part in the complicated Hallelujah Chorus. The chorus, so difficult, the pleasure in singing it well so great, a local choir director has offered to ‘rehearse’ our parts for interested parties before the official caroling, when this little chapel will be packed, voices rising. This is the real reason I have come to my friends’ home. I have longed to be a part of echoing voices, resounding in this place, corporate in effort, made more so as my mind this day has been awash of memories of Mike’s tenor voice and a high school choir four decades ago.

This chapel begs for music. Its stones cry out for it. I cry out for it.

I settle next to the choir director, sharing his music, as sun motes filter through stone cased windows, and we begin. Four decades of times falls out around me, and chemical signals and pathways recall the musical perfection demanded by Mr. Taylor, a driven conductor, gifted teacher, accomplished tenor in his own right, when he taught a roomful of teenagers to sing Handel. I might not have understood the sanctity of male athletic prowess back then, but I did have my wits about me enough to recognize that Taylor had drawn his choir from all the social ranks of high school, including the toughest ones on the football field. He demanded a choir unfettered by high school political correctness. Taylor held sway over us in ways that I would recognize in a few others later on: he was brilliant and gifted and demanded perfection and beauty in those around him, but who in doing so, walked the fine line of unacceptable behavior. Taylor was at once exceptional and tyrannical.

It’s curious to me and a fact for which I am grateful, that our teenage souls found the music worth it.

Classmates contacted me today. They told of the wonder of the attendees to Mike’s funeral on just how good Taylor’s choir was, how beautiful Mike’s voice.  Some would say it was our group from which Taylor garnered the most excellence. Google confirms he was a director of extraordinary talent.

There is an ancient philosophy that regards the precision and movement of the celestial bodies, the exact proportions and places they inhabit as a form of music. It is the music of the spheres.  It is a human recognition for the beauty that is perfection. If we are lucky, there are a few times, that a body of individuals accomplishes a task that is not only more than the sum of its parts but represents a singular moment in time that is both particular and peculiar for the very beings that are a part of it. These events wouldn’t have to be wrapped around music. Perhaps it happens on fields of game or battle. But music, that language that even science seems to be discovering is the most ancient language of the human soul, is likely transcendent in opportunity.

Given the prospect for a moment in time with others, never, I mean never waste the chance.

It’s these times that feed our soul long after. They point to the perfection of God and His love.

I hope this Christmas, the language of music, whether you join your voice or listen, transports you to the place that God and the music of the spheres inhabit.

RIP Mike

7 Responses

  1. Beautiful, Janet. I am being transported even as I comment. I am listening to For Unto Us a Child is Born from Messiah.

  2. Well done, Janet. A fitting tribute to our friend. Was it “Brigadoon” that Mike and you shared a part in? There was a picture during the service Saturday of Mike in his kilt.

  3. What a beautiful tribute to my brother. Thank you Janet! He was colorful, funny, handsome, athletic, a wonderful husband to Doris, an exceptional father to three precious boys and a giving friend. His extraordinary talent is now before the Lord. I miss him!

  4. Janet, thank you for sharing these memories. I don’t think any of us realized how special our time in the SHHS choir would be to us in the years to come. Memories of the sound we produced, of course, but the hard work that in the end produced that sound and the friendships we developed in that choir room were building character in us that we couldn’t have imagined. As I look at that photo, I see so many individuals that were AND ARE truly special people. Losing one so dear to our choir has had a sobering impact on me this week. Your post was awesome – thanks for sharing with us!

  5. Janet, is that you in the front row second to the end, on the right? I tried to enlarge the picture but couldn’t. I wish I could hear The Hallelujah Chorus sung in that beautiful chapel…I bet it will be awesome!

  6. Janet, a lovely sentiment. We all are going to miss Mike. Not only that voice of his but that infectious smile. The ones of us that didn’t sing in the choir benefited from all of your wonderful talent. I married into a family like that & every year at Christmas time we sing carols to families that are going through a rough time. I’m not sure who is blessed the most. I would also love to hear you sing in that chapel. I hate that I couldn’t be at Mike’s service, but my thoughts & prayers continue to be with his family. His singing in the Heavenly Choir now. We’ll meet you there soon.

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