Thursday, July 23, 2020

Glee club

Someone in my writer’s group suggested we listen to “Oh Happy Day” every day to keep things in perspective; to keep a positive attitude.

Times are hard between the pandemic and the current political climate, but they could be worse. Things could always be worse.

I listened to the song that day and then remembered a three-CD gospel choir set I had, which I unearthed and put in the car. Not only did I listen to “Oh Happy Day” (uplifting), but also to “Nobody Knows, Nobody Cares” (same idea as “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” – and they don’t really need to), “His Eye is on the Sparrow” (I’m not alone), and “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” (obscure words but super-catchy song). These are the gospel versions of these songs, not the hymnal versions (if these songs even exist in the hymnals of any church I ever went to, and I am not sure that they do). It reminded me how much I LIKE gospel music, or “spirituals,” which have uplifting musical messages.

Then I remembered Glee Club.

When I was in second grade at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Providence, Rhode Island, one day I was plucked out of class and brought to the auditorium for Glee Club. I don’t remember signing up for this or why anyone thought I should sing. I guess it was a privilege? I was studious and an advanced reader so maybe I didn’t need to spend as much time in class? I don’t know. (I do remember taking extra workbooks home for my brother and me and writing potty words to fill in blanks, like nonsense mad-libs. We cracked ourselves up and no doubt drove our mother nuts, but that is a story for another day.)

We had moved to a first-floor apartment in a triple-decker in Providence after living in a 3,000-plus square foot single-family home in Newport, off Bellevue Avenue when my parents divorced (because my mom thought she needed to go back to college to finish her degree at University of Rhode Island and probably other reasons that I can only surmise because I was only just turning seven when we moved).

It was devastating, to say the least. We were plunged into poverty. I used to get free hot lunch back in the day when everyone knew you got free hot lunch because they’d call you to the office to get your free lunch token.

As I recall, Glee Club was a bunch of kids singing happy songs at the tops of their lungs – like loud and joyfully. It was not at all like the chorus that my kids experienced in elementary (and middle school, for the one who didn’t pick up an instrument to escape chorus) where many of the kids mumble or even mouth the words, and God forbid should they emote at all in any way, though there were the occasional outliers and the elementary school my kids attended had a pretty good music program.

It was Glee Club where I learned about spirituals. We sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Down by the Riverside” and something about Mary and Martha that I can’t remember.

I realize today that these are religious songs. I don’t think there’s any way these songs would fly in a public elementary school nowadays. (And because I grew up Unitarian, I likely would not have heard them.)

My kids said the Pledge of Allegiance and at least one of them stepped out into the hallway after morning message to sing patriotic songs, which included, “God Bless America” and yes, this was within the past 10 years. But blatantly religious songs like the ones we sang in Glee Club would not be politically correct today. I imagine perhaps they were touted as American folksongs, which they are. And if it weren’t for “Down by the Riverside,” I would not have a ready example to teach my sons about the correct use of “lay” vs. “lie.”

(“Basically, boys, it’s lie, lie, lie. Never say ‘lay’ unless you’re going to lay down your sword and shield. You can lie down to take a nap, and you lay your head on the pillow.”)

It has been during the pandemic and the current political climate that I have really been missing church.

There are many reasons we’re not currently going: our pastor retired and it’s just not the same, hockey and roller derby are on Sundays, and then there’s the pandemic itself. No one is congregating.

I’m thinking when it’s time to go back, I am going to find a church with a “glee club.”

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