‘Glee’ (the collegiate version)
The other day my thoughts drifted back to when I was at Appalachian State University. One winter, my voice professor (and China Grove native) Hoyt Safrit fell into a drift of more solid texture than that of drifting thoughts, and fortunately there were some friends present to pull him out.
I have a certain amount of German blood, but there are also a great many Welsh drops within me. It is often said that if one travels to Wales and opens up a phone book (the opening of the phone book happening incidentally, while there, not being the reason for the trip), he will see a predominance of the names “Williams,” “Evans,” and “Jones.”
In that special land, Welshmen love to organize all-male choirs and sing anywhere, and as often as possible. It’s kind of like that point in Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” where upon the organizing of a barber shop quartet, Harold Hill (Robert Preston) states in so many words or less: ”From now on, you will never see any one of these men without the other three!” Well, imagine that multiplied by a factor of ten, twenty, or more, and you have the “Welsh men’s choir.”
(In a slight departure, but still dealing with “all thing’s Welsh,” my late wife Diane, son, Jeremy and I attended the concert of a Welsh men’s choir some years ago in Danville where their director told this story: One day, a young Welshman noticed a much elder of his countrymen in the act of practicing the grammar of his native tongue. When the younger man asked why, the older man said “In order to be more properly prepared when I get to Heaven!” The young man then inquired, “But what if you go to Hell?” to which the old Welshman replied: ”I already know English!”)
What Welshmen do while growing up (or more likely after their voices have changed), I got the chance to do at Appalachian in the early 1970s when I joined the ASU Men’s Glee Club. (When my daughter Rachel was in the Music Department there in the late 1990s, she got to be their piano accompanist.)
Doctor Phillip Paul was our director back then, a man whose talents also extended to that of the playing of a “mean” French horn. He represented an optimum combination of musical director and friend to us. He was a proper musical taskmaster, of course, but not with the pedantic chill of some of the other professors. “Letters” trailed behind their names too, and some of them seemed to use them as a barrier. Unlike Dr. Paul, some of them seemed to be possessed of the narrowest of “tunnel” or “stovepipe” vision, centered only on their “careers,” to the exclusion of all other human concern. The use of the following phrase probably dates me, but in our estimation, Dr. Paul was “with it,” his version of “grown-up” being the one most worthy of aspiration. We respected his title of “doctor,” but it also seemed to be just a natural part of his name, like that of one of the old-time jazz musicians, i.e. “King” Oliver.
Along with the men’s glee club standard repertoire of sea shanties, folk songs, and standbys of the old West (such as “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie,” still performed by Riders in the Sky), Dr. Paul also taught us serious and sacred works, some in Latin.
One day, he told us that the Glee Club had received a request from Boone’s Saint Elizabeth’s Catholic Church to perform several of our sacred Latin pieces during a Sunday Mass (of those pieces, definitely not the satirical one containing the phrase “Rorum, Corum, Sunt Divorum, Hic, Hoc, Horum, Genitivo,” purposefully pronounced most awfully, but not quite descending to that level of Latin spoken by the pig).
Since the switch from Latin to English in the Catholic Mass, St. Elizabeth’s parishioners had grown nostalgic for their faith’s native tongue (although its actual native tongues are Hebrew and Greek).
The Sunday came, and we performed those sacred songs so well that I bet no one in the audience (unless they had attended one of our previous concerts) could ever imagine us singing the phrase, “And when I die, you can bury me, neath the Western sky, on the lone prairie.” They could also probably have never imagined any of us then, or later in life, shouting out during song, in awful mimicry of British Cockney: “O what a lovely war!” (Imagine something even worse than Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.”)
That “shout out” was an actual part of a particular song’s lyrics and was “sung” by me in one of our Glee Club reunion concerts in the mid 1980s at Appalachian’s Hayes School of Music auditorium, a far cry from our I.G. Greer auditorium of the early 1970s. It was a nostalgic moment (our singing again under Dr. Paul’s direction, not the “Lovely War” part), leading to tears then, and as I think of it now, a very definite “blurring” of vision.
A multitude of smiles and handshakes followed the Mass at Saint Elizabeth’s, with Dr. Paul congratulating us on a job well done. About a week later, he informed us that we had been invited to a pizza dinner at Saint Elizabeth’s, to be given for us by its parishioners in gratitude for our having brought back the sound of Latin to them, if only briefly.
When we arrived in the fellowship room, pizza was present in all of its most popular varieties: cheese, pepperoni, and deluxe, unlike some of its more exotic grocery store descendants of the present day (kind of like the dinosaurs starting out simple, but later on becoming “frilly,” “spiky” or “warty” looking).
At our pizza dinner in Saint Elizabeth’s fellowship hall, something else was present: beer. I was surprised to see it there, but reflecting about the early on and long-lasting influence of the Puritans in all of our lives, I guess my surprise wasn’t surprising!
One of the priests was busily popping the caps off of bottles of beer and handing them to us. Another man of the cloth, Pastor Floyd W. Bost, had administered wine to me before at Saint Paul’s Lutheran, but this was my first instance of the “administering” of beer by a “collar-wearing” man. It seemed strange, but of course if monks can make and sell wine, then I guess a priest can pass out beer.
Looking back, and writing about that appreciative dinner given by Saint Elizabeth’s for the ASU Men’s Glee Club, the same phrase pops into my mind now as when the priest handed me my bottle of beer then. Those words, if uttered almost 500 years ago in Germany, falling on the Lutheran ears of that day, might have been interpreted as anti-Protestant sentiment, namely: “Catholics are cool!”
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