By Barb Arland-Fye
“Singing is a language that leads to the communion of hearts,” Pope Francis said. “Crossing every boundary, you spread a message of peace and solidarity.” The pope shared that observation with the Alumni of Heaven Choir Association (Vatican News, Nov. 10, 2018), and it echoes what I felt last Saturday afternoon at a concert and during Mass that evening.
Estes Studio’s Butterworth Center recital on July 24 in the elegant, Victorian-era mansion in Moline, Illinois, featured instrumental, mostly secular music but I felt that sense of a “communion of hearts.” My family and the families of other music students of Don Estes listened as our loved ones performed the music they have practiced so diligently to share with us.
They ranged from beginners to longtime students of varying abilities and interests, playing the piano, the baritone horn, electric or acoustic guitar, the trumpet and the flute. A mother and son duet melted my heart. She played the flute and her son, a high school student, played the baritone horn. How many other moms and their teenage sons bond by practicing music together?
Josh, a young man with autism who plays the piano, performed “Eternal Flame,” “Over the Rainbow,” and “Johnny Comes Marching Home,” completely absorbed in his music. He treasured each piece as he played. Josh reads music while my son Colin, who also has autism and plays the piano, performed his selections by ear, the “National Anthem,” “My Heart Will Go On,” “Say A Little Prayer,” and “Amazing Grace.” Colin played “Amazing Grace” in different keys because he apparently loves listening to the contrast.
I imagined the pre-teen boy playing an aqua-colored electric guitar as a rock ‘n roll band performer in years to come. Still another boy, perhaps 12, performed a portion of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with marvelous skill. Prior to that performance, which concluded the recital, Don the music teacher invited us to sing along to “You Are My Sunshine” as he and his granddaughter, Grace, accompanied us on guitar and ukulele, respectively. Many of us in the audience were strangers to one another, but in my mind, the performances and the sing-a-long inspired the “communion of hearts” that Pope Francis talked about.
A few hours later, I had the privilege of joining cantor Joanne Rumpza during the 5:30 p.m. Mass at my parish, Our Lady of the River in LeClaire. It was the first time in 16 months of the pandemic that I, a member of the choir, had an opportunity to join another choir member to lead the congregation in song. Her voice takes my voice under its wing and leads it to soar.
Pope Francis said in that talk three years ago that the harmony of voices should be found in everyday life, both within the choir and outside of it. Music and singing “are capable of transmitting the beauty and strength of love.”
Don said he teaches his students the way they want to be taught. From what I have witnessed, in his music lessons with Colin and during the recitals we have attended over the years, Don teaches, first, with love.
During Mass, no matter the size of the congregation or our political views, talents or skills, we sing the songs of the liturgy with love for our God and our faith community. Our world needs more music, more singing to help lead us to “the communion of hearts.”
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)