Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Several years ago I was tossed out of my job as choral director of a Unitarian church.  I was told that the reason was embezzlement, but too many people told me it was nothing close to embezzlement.  I was given a check to cover my expenses at a music conference.  As the event approached, I told the music minister that I had to use the check to pay some bills.  However, my father's will was to be finalized any day.  I promised I would repay the church the amount of the check plus an additional amount.  I told both her and another titled person at the church.  Both of them knew; neither objected.  It seemed to me to be no business of the minister.

One day as I was preparing for the next month's rehearsals, the minister came into the music room to tell me to resign.  He said I could protest that, but it would be better if I handed in my resignation.  What pissed me off as much as being called an embezzler was that I gave my word that I would repay the church.  He knew that, and told me that wasn't necessary.  (Then why the fuss?)  He  asked why I hadn't told him about my financial problem.  I reminded him that I'd done that before and he concluded that session by him telling me not to ask for help again.  I reminded him of that and he moved on to something else without acknowledging that.

The next day I submitted a yellow legal page with "I quit," my name, and the date in pencil.

His parting shot (or his parting word) was that he hoped I would continue to attend church.  I'm not sure if he wore a smirk on his face or if I have painted it there through the years.  But, truly, what a stupid thing to say.  "Your word doesn't mean squat to me, your name means nothing to anyone here, we clearly can't trust you as far as we can fling you, but you're certainly welcome to keep attending services."  What utter pig shit.

I'd directed the choral program for 22 years.  Within a few years of taking it over, the choir increased from 6 singers to 20 to a high of 42, then settled to around 25.  For a church that size, especially a not-particularly-Christian church of 200+ members, that was quite an achievement.  The singers and I developed one of the greatest relationships I've ever known.  As a friend of the choir told me, "You know they'd walk through fire for you, right?"  I didn't, but I appreciated the comment.

The music minister and I had been friends for a long time.  Since she didn't come to my defense, I assumed she agreed with the minister.  She would have to, of course, to maintain her job, and being paid to be a musician isn't that easy around here.  She didn't come to my rescue, though, she didn't protest my firing, and we stopped talking, stopped being friends.  When my father's will became finalized, I paid the church the original amount and another $100 as "interest."  The check wasn't returned, so I assume it was acceptable despite it not being necessary to repay the church.  I said I would, though. When I say I'll do something, when I give my word, I do it.

Encouraged by a mutual friend, she and I started exchanging emails and made a lunch date.  We saw each other at the restaurant and hugged each other really, really hard. Instantly our friendship resumed, although it was a little guarded.  Still, we got back to communicating.  For the last couple of years, she's been having problems with the church. The minister who fired me finally got the hint from the congregation and left, but that was after driving the church's finances into the ground and putting my friend to part time status.  The first interim minister was a good person but she didn't bring back those who left and she didn't bring in the needed bucks.  Unitarian Universalist interim ministers tend to serve a year.  She was let go and another came in and, from what I hear, has debilitated the church even more.  And although my friend contemplated retiring after her birthday, she hadn't made it official and swore her friends to secrecy.  At a board meeting, the minister intimated that she was leaving.  This came as news to her, but it helped her understand that she made the right decision.  She was being paid hardly anything while expected to maintain full time hours.  End of April, she's gone.

She called me at the LGBT Center yesterday to tell me that she is leaving...officially at the end of April, but in reality after a music program called Music for the Soul, an annual service presented by the music department...except that there isn't a music department and the minister has no appreciation of what goes into preparing music for any given Sunday.  Because she is the department, the choir will officially stop functioning after Music for the Soul.  The choir is crushed.  She decided to make it a "best of" service and asked the choir members what they'd like to sing.

While I was director, I arranged several chorals for the choir...mostly of hymns that were in the public domain.  It was sort of part of the job, but it also gave me the opportunity to arrange choral music.  Nothing was particularly outstanding and I gave up trying to sell them to publishers, but the choir liked to sing the music and I enjoyed hearing them sing what I'd thought up.

She told me that hands down the biggest response went to one of my arrangements. That was surprising enough, but what they wanted to do was "How Can I Keep From Singing." When she told me that, I was completely overcome.  That anyone would remember me seemed odd enough; that the song would be "How Can I Keep From Singing" on the last time the choir would sing together humbled me greatly.

My life goes on in endless song
Above earth's lamentations, 
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing, 
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

While though the tempest loudly roars, 
I hear the truth, it liveth.
And though the darkness 'round me close, 
Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, 
While to that rock I'm clinging.
Since love is lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble when they hear
The bells of freedom ringing, 
When friends rejoice both far and near
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging, 
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?

My life flows on in endless song;
How can I keep from singing?