By Anne M. Saxon
I recently took a class at my church titled, “From Aging to Sage-ing.” I was very intrigued by the title, so I signed up. It was actually taken from our class textbook, by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller. In it, “Zalman…provides new inspiring ideas about the importance of an elder’s role in shaping society and explains how elders can embrace the power they have to provide value and wisdom to those around them.”
Now that I have grandchildren I often reflect on my own changing role within my family and community, and realize what a beautiful role-model I had for this: my own mother. Widowed early, she spent the remaining 25 years of her life literally “keeping the family together and seeing the grandchildren through.” She hosted Sunday lunch for our extended family for over 33 years. And I’m not just talking about lunch, I’m talking about the “cover of Southern Living Magazine Lunch”; consider a meat, three vegetables, homemade angel biscuits, and a spectacular dessert as the crowning end to such a feast. This was served on a beautifully laid-out table, complete with china, tablecloth, and a centerpiece of her own design (shaped from her treasures found in the Dollar Store).
I can still picture her today, running in from her church service complete with dress suit and pearls, shucking her feet into her bedroom shoes and throwing on an apron, and fussing about how “the sermon ran long.” The “Grand Grand-ma-mas” usually sat near the back of the sanctuary in case one needed to leave early and tend to a roast in the oven (a lot like the small-town volunteer firemen who backed into their parking spaces and sat in the balcony, poised to leave at the first sound of the alarm). She would plan her menu on Wednesdays and work on having it ready for each weekly presentation precisely at 12:30 on Sunday afternoons. This thing called “Sunday Lunch” was her greatest outward expression of love.
And it doesn’t stop there – imagine all of the birthdays, holidays, and countless extra times we “put our feet under her table.” By the time my kids were teenagers they would invite a church friend to join us for Grandma’s Sunday lunch and would seem surprised when their friend’s eyes got big when they sat down with total wonder at our weekly feast. It was then that my children realized what a unique and beautiful gift they enjoyed each week and that not everyone had a grandmother who did this kind of a thing. During their high school years, they were often admonished by their grandmother if they did not call ahead of time to let her know they would be absent for a Sunday lunch. As someone who always had a church music job, for me this meant my children had vegetables at least once a week and I was off the hook from cooking lunch after working all morning. What a precious gift!
My article in the recent issue of the [North Carolina ACDA Carolina] Caroler spoke about the sudden passing of Robert Frazier, the director of the music and arts ministries at Centenary UMC in Winston-Salem, last October. Even though it has been a painful process to pick up the pieces and continue forward, Centenary’s Chancel Choir has many wonderfully trained and experienced choral musicians among its ranks. June Stegall is one such person, and we have been extremely fortunate that she has served as our interim director these past several months. A retired high school choral music teacher, June has patiently and lovingly whipped us all into shape, guiding at the helm and helping us pick up the pieces of our shattered world, and has begun the process of making us whole again as a church choir community.
June’s greatest gift? To me, it is her knowledge and experience from a lifetime of creating great choral music. She has led us through both traditional choral gems and new anthems alike, each one taking us to greater musical heights. On the night of our Lessons and Carols Service last December, there was June on the conductor’s podium, baton in hand, facing a full orchestra and an army of prepared singers, loving us through the music that Rob had chosen for that service. It was nothing less than amazing. That’s when I realized that June had actually been preparing for this moment her entire adult life. Her sage wisdom, and belief in us, was what made the difference.Although she would humbly disagree with me, she is truly “an angel among us.” The mere countenance of solid self-assurance when conducting was all we needed.
And it doesn’t stop there. We have now been through our post-Christmas music and on into Holy Week and Easter music, each service seamlessly and beautifully elevated by her musical leadership and wise counsel. Add to this a complete reorganization of things where Rob left off: adding new and returning choir members to our ranks, schooling the church pastors and staff on our needs, and getting us ready for the next person to stand on the podium. “Don’t forget that potential conductors are watching us on our live stream video” she states, while admonishing us to hold up our folders correctly and not close our eyes and drift off during the service. Akin to being scolded by an old-fashioned schoolmarm, even the basses on the back row will stand a little taller and want to please her, and I am holding my folder a little higher quietly cheering her on. Whomever God brings to us next, we are ready. It is because of this loving sage who “knows her stuff” and wields her power with grace and quiet strength.
Each of our choral communities have such angels among us, and I have witnessed time and again how they graciously and generously share their gifts and graces, imparting their knowledge to the next generations. Many of you know these people of whom I speak. These role models are true Sages, and I for one, am extremely grateful.
Anne Murray Saxon is the past president/executive director of NCACDA and is an active member of NCMEA. She is the founding artistic director of the Winston-Salem Girls Chorus and leads the children’s choir program at Home Moravian Church in Old Salem. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from Greensboro College and UNC Greensboro, respectively.
This article was originally published in the North Carolina ACDA Carolina Caroler. Reprinted with permission.