I was married in 1976 to an amazing woman named Carol. She had a PhD in music education and a Performer’s Certificate (the performance equivalent of a PhD) from the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. I was a struggling music major in college.
Carol was a coloratura soprano with an amazing voice. She sang at weddings and was well known in the classical music world as a singer and interpreter of Schubert Lieder, often considered to be the first true “pop songs.” She also had a regular gig at a little church about an hour-and-a-half away from where we lived at the time. They paid her the grand total of $15, which just about covered the gas to get there and back. But they allowed her to pick the classical compositions she wanted to sing. She would submit them to the church organist the week before and get there early the next week for a quick practice.
She loved it so much. I went with her every Sunday morning. The church was near her mother’s house so we’d visit after the services. She wasn’t a member of the particular religion of the church and neither was I but they didn’t care as long as they had great music for their service. It was so nice to hear her soaring voice every Sunday morning. I didn’t even mind the long drive. And her mother liked me so the visits were great. (She was also an excellent cook which didn’t hurt at all.)
Carol became pregnant about a month after we were married. My academic career had garnered the attention of an East Coast University who offered me a paid instructor position along with allowing me to finish my PhD there at no charge. I just had to agree to a 5 year contract as a professor of music once I got my degree. They were even going to give us a place to live. Our apartment was right on the water and the campus was beautiful. We were on our way.
A drunk driver killed Carol about 8 months after we were married. She was 7 months pregnant with a male fetus who was also killed. My life changed dramatically. I missed her terribly. Along with everything else about her, I hated not being able to hear her sing, especially on Sunday mornings.
Several decades later my new life had settled in. I had dropped out of school after she was killed. There was no way I could go back without her. I developed a nice career in advertising, even writing some jingles that ran nationwide. So I was using my musical educational at least a little bit. I then took a position as a show host at QVC. I got to host most of the musical segments, along with their regular fare. Life was good. I still missed Carol. They say time heals. The emptiness got much worse as time progressed. But, as they say, life goes on.
In the mid-1990’s I was looking for a church to join. There were several in the Chester Springs, PA area where I lived. I went to some very strict churches, where they made it plain God was out to get me if I didn’t toe the line. Others had full blown rock bands and parishioners who waved their arms back and forth as the music and spirit moved them. I was waiting for them to serve the Kool-Aid.
Finally, I went into a little church on Route 100, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ. I arrived late and the Pastor was already doing her sermon. I heard her say, “Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion. He came to reform the one we already had, Judaism.” Wow! She knew history and said something I have always felt. I joined the church and became a Sunday School teacher and finally a Deacon.
The church had an old carillon. When the pastor heard I was a computer geek, she asked me to see if I could fix it. The thing hadn’t worked for decades. Decades? When I went to look at the unit, it was like going back in time to the 1970’s. It used tapes that were contained in huge plastic containers that looked like an 8-track from The Land of the Giants. The amplification system used vacuum tubes.
As old as I am, I was truly out of my element. I have replaced the tubes in some of my guitar amplifiers and even a few capacitors. But this thing would have confounded Scotty on Star Trek. There were wires everywhere and it looked like it had been serviced by someone who believes more is better when it comes to soldering (it’s not).
I called the company who made it. They were a couple of hours north of Philadelphia and I discovered that they are one of the leading carillon manufacturers in the world. One of their service and installation people came out and couldn’t believe the old machine was still intact. He hadn’t seen one in years. He said if (and he stressed “if’) they could find the parts it would cost $5,000 to fix it. But they didn’t make or stock the giant tape cartridges for it so we were stuck with the selections we had.
That year had been terrific for me financially. The tech market was booming and I played it pretty well. I asked what a new carillon would cost. He said it would be about 4 times as much as repairing the old unit. I wasn’t married and didn’t have any kids to support so I told him to do it.
The new unit and “super duper” roof-mounted speakers for were installed in a few hours. The unit itself was about the size of a briefcase and used memory cards. I purchased a bunch for Christmas, Easter and everyday use. The sound was incredible! St. Paul’s is in a bit of a valley so the beautiful sound carried for miles.
The first Sunday we used it, the Pastor thanked me. When she asked why I decided to make such the donation, I listened for a moment to the carillon’s beautiful version of Amazing Grace and replied, “She still sings every Sunday.” We both smiled and broke into tears.
I have finally written a song about Carol and her Sunday performances. I will be producing a full band version of it in a few weeks. But here are the lyrics and a guitar/voice demo for now:
She Sang Every Sunday © 2016 Steve Bryant
She brought music to my life,
And everyone around.
People came from near and far,
To celebrate her sound.
She sang at clubs and parties,
Could have been a big star on Broadway.
But she didn’t miss the fame at all,
When she sang every Sunday.
Her music was a special thing,
She shared it when she could.
She never let life get her down,
Always sang about the good.
Her music came from deep inside,
She sang at work and at play,
Had the best times of her life
When she sang every Sunday.
It was a little country church,
With a great big congregation.
They came to hear the words of God,
And join in celebration.
But you could hear a pin drop,
When she sang of Heaven’s Highway.
She showed us all a glimpse of God.
When she sang every Sunday.
Life’s as long as it is short,
We don’t know where or when.
A tragic moment one sad day.
She never sang again.
(Instrumental solo for half the verse)
The congregation mourns her.
I know I’ll see her one day.
But her music lives in this old church.
She still sings every Sunday.
©2016 Steve Bryant – No portion of this text may be copied, reprinted or broadcast in any medium without express written consent of the author.