12 Italian ladies and a nun

St. Dominic's Church, San Francisco.
St. Dominic’s Church, San Francisco.

I was asked to sing Schubert’s “Ave Maria” at a funeral this weekend, a Catholic service for an Italian family.

I’m here to talk about the members of the choir loft.  In any church, any denomination, you will find a unique handful of people.  But the older Italian ladies who sing in church are very special. Their hair is just so, their faces are on, and they belt out “On Eagle’s Wings” like it’s a contest. They mean business, and they are watching as you sing your solo, penciled eyebrows raised, because they have heard this one before and they know exactly how it should go. And then there’s the nun. This choir is not ruled by the organist.  No, Sister points at the organist and says “now”.

I don’t know the ages of these ladies today, let’s just call them old.  But they have been singing these hymns for a long time, and that is no easy climb up to the choir loft.  I didn’t breathe as I followed one of these great-grandmothers down the stairs after the service for fear that one misstep would send her up to heaven!  It’s humbling, this group of singers full of unwritten harmonies, singing week after week for decades for the love and faith of it all.

I never get used to the open casket though…

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