On any number of occasions, I have been known to say that God did not make me handsome, so he gave me a voice. As the story is told, and always by me, while waiting in line to leave heaven, bound for earth where I would soon be born, Our Lord took one last look at me and said, let’s at least give that wretched child a sweet voice. And so, I sing…
I come from a large, singing, Irish Roman Catholic Family. Yes, it was we who put the “Fun” in dysfunctional, but we were a musical lot. There were fourteen of us in all — eleven boys and three girls, plus my Papa who was a fine Tenor. In his youth he had sung with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus and could still command a sweet, lilting Irish Tenor voice, so long has he and Mr. John Jameson had spent a wee bit of the evening together prior to the singing. Among other things, perhaps less glamourous, it is what we were known for in our town, and each Christmas Eve, we would walk our way to midnight mass, visiting ourselves upon the friends and folk of the little city where we lived, Caroling at each stop, the whole evening long. The familial quality of the voices did give a tightly blended sound to the music we made. It was perhaps the only thing truly harmonious about us.
Anyway, In the first grade I had a sweet young Nun for a teacher. It was 1966, so the movie “The Singing Nun” had somewhat popularized the calling, and looking back on it, she was as sweet and fine a woman as ever I have met, so I knew the convent would not hold her long, which it did not. She played a guitar she carried in a crude canvas bag and we sang all the popular folk songs of the 60’s post Vatican II Catholic Church. It was Christmas that same year when, after the big finish of the Holy Redeemer Elementary School Christmas Pageant that concluded the final day of school before our greatly anticipated Christmas break, Sister Carmen pulled me off to the side to speak to me alone.
Entirely mortified, I well remember standing there as she held me fixed with her slender, but stern thin hand rigidly attached to the tip of my shirt collar. Then, as I trembled inside, she pulled me in close till we were quite literally standing nose-to-nose and eye-to-eye. It seemed as though we were locked in that stare for several minutes, until finally, both of us now trembling, with a sound not unlike that of a release of steam from a train boiler, she whispered: “God has given you a gift. Now you must give it back.” We stood fixed for another few moments before she released me and then, like a breeze, walked swiftly, effortlessly, even silently away. As you can imagine that moment was, and remains, etched forever in my memory, although it took another thirty-five years to fully appreciate what she had meant.
Anyway, a few years back, it occurred to me that one day I would be old and the one, true, unique gift God had given me would weaken and wobble, as do all old men’s voices in time. It was then that I decided to pick a few of my favorite Christmas Hymns and Songs and do a recording. Little did I know the many miles and frequent smiles that simple work would eventually have… Here is a quick telling of how it came to be,
The single most talented Accompanist I’ve ever known — and I might brag for a moment that I have sung with many, and most all great — played for me. His name is James Pera, and he was, at that time, the Director of Music for the Parish where I was Cantor, Soloist, and member of the choir. He was, and remains, a keyboard phenomenon. He is the sort of accompanist that vocalist love because, in spite of his own tremendous talents, he comfortably and humbly takes the second chair and lets the voice become the thing. And yet, I cannot begin to tell you how many times when the little choo-choo train left the track right in the middle of a piece how nimbly he was able to follow me off the tracks, over the hills, through the river and bring me back smoothly onto the track, all while pretending that it was I who was in charge. Talented beyond talented doesn’t begin to describe the immensity of the skill my dear, sweet friend James possesses.
Another dear friend, Stacy Doose, a person with whom I had worked my many days and years, selling, and producing video and film, agreed that he would supply the equipment and skill to capture and produce the recording. To say that Stacy is a sweet man is to describe the Mona Lisa as a picture of a peculiar woman with a unique smile. Stacy is skilled and faithful, and talented, and entirely generous of heart. This thing could not have happened but for his belief in me and his skills as an multimedia engineer and artist extraordinaire.
A third, and overly wonderful, gentleman who I had become friends with while singing at the Church where James was Director simply appeared on the day of the recording and just jumped in to pick up the slack and do whatever was needed and that he could to assist with all aspects of that day-long recording session. His name is Tom Lanham and while we eventually each left that Parish and no longer sing together, I will always think of him as a dear friend for the many, many Wednesday evening rehearsals and Sunday morning Masses sitting side by side, blending our voices while reaching new heights in parochial school-boy tricks and jokes during the Homily. I miss Tom and think of him and his remarkably beautiful wife quite regularly…
Anyway, we laid down eleven tracks in all that day, and each is a one-take-wonder. While we did record each piece a number of times, the tracks on this recording are simply the best of the takes, cleaned up as expertly as possible at the skilled hands of Mr. Doose. Its been some time since we did this recording, but it has made more than a few people smile and I still hear from friends both far and near each Christmas to say that they just listened to my record, or they were listening to it then and how much they enjoyed it. And for that reason, I am placing this link here now. I hope you enjoy it too:
Have a blessed and Merry Christmas!
One thought on “The Traditional Sounds of Christmas”
Thank you for sharing, I will listen to it soon! What a gift 🙂