“Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.” William Makepeace Thackeray
This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the United States. I am a mother but am also a daughter, missing her mother especially this year. I think back seven years ago, Mom’s last Mother’s Day, and wish I had known it was to be her last. I am not sure what I would have done differently but think I would have done something special. Her health began to rapidly deteriorate soon after and she passed away that July.
Mom was an opera singer, singing the role of the Queen of the Night and many operettas as well. As her six children came along, she specialized in oratorio work and was a paid church choir ringer until she was in her early 70s. We didn’t think it strange to have a mother gone several evenings a week for rehearsals or to be asked to help decide what jewelry would go with which gown. During one of her hospitalizations that last February, my brother and I agreed in the hospital corridor outside of her room she must be feeling better because she “had her Diva back” much to the horror of one of her nurses. We explained she had been an opera singer and we meant “Diva” in that sense….and it was good she was asking for her lipstick!
Mom’s death wasn’t a surprise, but the quickness of her downhill spiral was. Driving back and forth to my parents’ home gave me time to develop the Choral Ethics idea. And I came to the conclusion the real inspiration for Choral Ethics and the whole concept was because of my mother, the coloratura soprano Rose Marie (Ditto) Grass. And in those drives to my parents’ home, it became clear those lessons occurring at my Mother’s knee were attitudes brought into my adult life. I kept thinking about Mom in various situations and how she practiced what she preached. Through all the opera productions, concerts and worship services where Mom was soloist or Prima Donna, she had a graciousness, a humbleness and kindness I thought everyone who was a musician possessed.
I remember, very distinctly, her practicing the Queen of the Night runs almost every day well into her 60s, usually while doing dishes. These are the kinds of things most “civilians” take for granted but those runs have to be practiced and practiced for them to stay in the voice. In order to stay in practice for difficult things when needed, you have to practice. Even when doing dishes. She taught me much by the way she lived; managing to have a bit of a singing career, raising six very different individuals while being married to the same man for almost 60 years.
There is an incident when I was in high school which sticks in my mind. I was a junior and had just auditioned for the school musical, with my audition being pro forma since it was already understood I would have the lead. I came home from the audition gloating and, as Mom would say, “being ugly.” She snapped at me about my behavior. She told me not to get too comfortable about “always” getting the part and there would be plenty of times in my life I wouldn’t. She told me to treat everyone the way I would like to be treated if I hadn’t gotten the part. And she said if I didn’t behave as a “gracious winner,” she would pull me out of the show. I shaped up pretty quickly! Being a gracious winner, in addition to being a gracious loser, was just one of her lessons. We were expected not to gossip, be on time if at all possible and to pick up after ourselves, at rehearsals AND at home. As an adult and conductor, I try to uphold her values but often it is difficult.
The evening she lay dying, we sang songs she taught us, songs no one sings anymore because they are old fashioned. I like to think her legacy besides those old songs will be Choral Ethics and being an ethical, moral musician and choral conductor will never be out of fashion. It will be another “song” she has taught me.
Until next week, be well and be safe!
I am taking my Choral Ethics Blogs to my chamber choir’s Facebook page for the foreseeable future. Please join me there this morning! https://www.facebook.com/themidwestmotetsociety/