And climb the stairs to the beach...

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Some thoughts about the Easter season...

Easter brings back lots of memories for me. As a little girl, yes, there were the occasional Easter Egg hunts, the cleverly hidden baskets on Easter morning, sunrise service, early Easter breakfasts and Lilies and Tulips in abundance. And of course who wouldn't remember the various Easter outfits from back in the day when white gloves were mandatory. There were some wonderful memories of Easter, but what I remember most of all is the music during this whole season, not just Easter Sunday.

As a little girl, I sang in the children's choir at church. Not like the choirs of Sister Act or the Southern Baptists, ours was a very conservative, well rehearsed and serious choir for children of eight and nine years of age. Virginia Priest was our director, a very elderly and stern woman. She was not an attractive woman, really, nor was she a large woman, but stood strongly with her legs apart and her hips forward so that her belly kind of protruded and she did look a little intimidating. She had dark circles under her eyes and her hair was short and grey and she had unusually large earlobes that were pierced, an oddity back then, on which usually hung dangling earrings. We thought she was ancient. But not too long after I joined the choir, she would actually remarry and change her name to Mrs. Pastene. We thought that was the most peculiar thing, getting married later in life like that. The truth is she was probably only in her early sixties and would live until she was 100 or more.

Mrs. Pastene knew her music and was all business when she was rehearsing us. She told us she no longer had a singing voice because she was so old. When she did sing she warbled terribly and we thought it was kind of funny. I suspect it was a heartbreak for her that she couldn't sing any longer and she chose to direct the choir just to be near the music. As her hand would keep the beat for us she directed with lots of energy, especially when she feverishly tried to make us pick up the pace. She frequently would close her eyes while conducting, listening to her angels making music.

Memorial Congregational Sudbury

I sang alto then, as I do today. My brother Chuck was a soprano then, one of the few boys in that section. I think he might be a baritone these days. He was also the choir cut-up who sat in the back row and teased the girls. I was the perfectly behaved one, sitting in the front row always aware of what page we were on, always trying to save the family's reputation. Rehearsals were Thursday afternoons at 4:00. We would walk to the church and gather in Fellowship Hall, Altos on the left facing Mrs. Pastene, Sopranos on the right.

We learned all the hymns from Mrs. Pastene. Hymns like I Love to Tell the Story, I Would Be True and Fairest Lord Jesus. We learned prayer responses, too. One favorite of mine was Spirit Divine Attend My Prayer. I sang that for an audition in 3rd grade for the school talent contest. I didn't make the cut. I think Simon would say it was due to poor song choice.

The Junior Choir never sang on Easter Sunday, but Palm Sunday was all ours. On that day, we sat in the choir loft, displacing the Senior Choir, relegating them to the congregation at large. The choir loft was up on the "stage" behind the pulpit, on either side of the chancel. Dressed in Red robes with white surpluses, we filed in singing a hymn, down the center aisle, up the steps to the loft, Altos turned to the right and the Sopranos to the left. The benches were surrounded by waist high red velvet curtains so nobody could see if we were kicking each other. We felt like royalty. But, being eight years old, the church-giggles came often and always during the sermon. Still, we were pretty special.

So, on Easter Sundays, as I sat in our usual seats in the congregation, white gloved hands and hatted head, watching the Senior Choir process into the choir loft, taking their places where we had been just a week before, I always told myself, 'someday I would make the big time and sing on Easter!' And sure enough, I had that opportunity for many years as an adult in that same church as a member of the senior choir to sing some of the most beautiful music ever written. My dear friend and choir director Rick, also dear friends soprano Kitty and fellow altos Melinda and Malaryn will tell you that I wasn't the most well-behaved person in rehearsals as an adult, but I still sat in the front row. And we became pretty good at hiding the church-giggles during sermons. Well...usually.

Pilgrim Congregational Chattanooga
But back to Palm Sunday...One of the first anthems I ever sang as a little girl was called "Palm Branches" by Jean-Baptiste Faure. And until last week, I didn't realize how much of that song I remembered when the senior choir at the church here in Tennessee began to sing it. Nearly fifty years after having sung Palm Branches in my home church, I found myself sitting in a congregation of strangers, singing the words to myself with a smile on my face and just the smallest tear in my eye.

My copy of Palm Branches from 50 years ago. (We were supposed to turn it in after we sang it. I guess if I still have the sheet music, that might mean that I wasn't the most perfect, well-behaved little girl. )

So, the music this time of year is what does it for me. And what does it for you? This morning, this Easter morning, the first thing I did was to put the Hallelujah Chorus on the CD player, got myself a cup of coffee and went to the computer to write to you all. And today is all about the Good News. I think we are all ready for some of that!

Well, I better go get ready for church. I wonder what they'll be singing this morning?

Happy Easter to you all. Hallelujah!



  1. Suzanne - What a memory you have for details. I wonder if I was in that choir with you? I know we attended the Congregational Church for a number of years, until my dad said the minister (you probably remember his name, started with a B, I think) started repeating his sermons! I think I remember the red robes, and Virginia Priest sounds familiar... Then again, maybe I didn't sing in choir until my family attended the Methodist Church in high school - I definitely remember being in the grown-up choir there! What do you think?

  2. are you sure that is YOUR copy of Palm Branches? sould be that Cindy or I were the delinquents involved in 'stealing' it. it did come with the piano bench, right?
    good little mem, love, beck


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