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Ita missa est

July 12, 2015

This morning, like most Sunday mornings, I hauled my fiddle up to the choir loft and church to play the 8:30 Mass. I waved to the organist, got tuned, pulled out my music, prepped my hymnal, and adjusted the mike. The bell rang to start Mass and I played the first hymn. A few minutes after we finished the song, I heard footsteps on the wooden stairs and a small girl appeared by my side, and stood there very still.

I went over and crouched down to talk to her and she talked very quietly. I asked if she was here to see the organist and she nodded solemnly. I realized at her height, she couldn’t see over the organ console, so I grabbed him for her. He said a few words and set her up with a mike just her height and gave her some music. But when it came time to sing, she stepped away from the mike. She looked shy.

After the next song, I was standing with my fiddle under my arm running the baroque concerto I was going to play for the offertory quietly. I felt a tug on my elbow. “Can I stand over here next to you?” she asked.

“Of course.” I got her a hymnal and move the mike between our heights so we could both use it. When it came time to sing, she turned the mike back to me. “I’m scared,” she said. “Would you like me to sing with you instead of play?” She nodded. We stood next to each other holding hands for the next song.

“What’s your name?” I asked her afterwards.


“Hi, I’m Harriet.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m 47,” her eyes widened, either because I sounded alarmingly old or because she didn’t expect a straight answer. “How old are you?”

“I’m 6.”

It was time to play my piece. E stood stock still by my elbow watching me with enormous brown eyes.

When I had finished she asked, “Can I try?”

I whispered in here ear, “Not right now, but after Mass I’ll show you how to play.” She grinned.

It was time to say the Lord’s Prayer. I usually fold my hands, like the old timers. But this time it seemed right to hold hands like the current custom. I grabbed her hand and she looked at me and grinned. We said the prayer together.

At the passing of the peace, where you greet the people around you and say peace be with you. I waved at the organist. I held out my hand to E to shake, but instead she threw her arms around me and gave me a giant boa constrictor hug. I hugged her back.

“I need to go down and tell my mama something.”

“Can you wait until after the next song? I need someone to sing with me.”

“I’m just going to go down now.”

“Okay. Come right back!”

She came back a few minutes later. “I was so scared on the stairs.” The stairs are old and warped and they make tight turns where the steps are very narrow.

“I can help you when it’s time to go back down.”

“I want to go down.”

“Sing with me. Here.” I pointed at the hymnal for her as the organ played the beginning of the “Agnus Dei.” I held the mike between us and she opened her mouth and out came a beautiful soft soprano voice.

She took my hand and we walked down the stairs together. She ran to find her mom while I walked up the center aisle to take communion. When I got to the back of the church again, she was just starting to climb the stairs all by herself. “I’m not scared anymore,” she whispered when she saw me.”

We sang the last hymn and after it was over, as promised, I let her hold my violin, far to big for her. She held it and listened carefully to my instructions. She played a note and looked at me with surprise and then played another one. I sang her some rhythms and had her play them back. Then I had her sing rhythms to me and she played those too. Her brother came up to tell her it was time to go. I went down with her and my violin so she could show her mom what she had learned. I met her whole family, who were all lovely. Her mother thanked me over and over and asked if I taught. I said I used to but I don’t do it right now, but I’ve been thinking about it. She asked for my number and I gave it to her.

Later I had a message on the machine. She called to thank me again and to tell me a story. Her daughter has had a hard time. She has severe learning disabilities and is made fun of by other children and not always tolerated by adults. She’s often afraid to talk to people. Her brother is autistic and rarely talks to others. She said that both children were talking about being in the choir loft and about the violin this morning. She said that her son has never volunteered to go somewhere by himself before. He’s usually very afraid of strangers, but he ran right up to the loft. Music is a way he can communicate. She thinks it was because he plays violin too. And if I’d ever consider teaching, to please give her a call.

I was, needless to say, weeping copiously as I listened to this message, which was also full of parental heartbreak, the kind where people chalk up a child’s problems to bad parenting. This, people, is why music lessons matter, why we are in desperate need of music in schools and really just about everywhere. Music connects people when other things don’t work. It was that way for me, as a shy and awkward kid. It’s doubly true for kids like E and her brother. It’s a simple thing.

E. wanted us to take her picture holding the violin, but no one had a camera. I promised we’d do it next week if she’d come back. She promised she would. And I’m going to hold her to it.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 12, 2015 5:38 pm

    I’m so glad you were there for E.

  2. July 12, 2015 5:46 pm

    Oh, stop making me cry. That was just lovely.

  3. July 12, 2015 6:10 pm

    Oh, that’s lovely.

  4. July 12, 2015 7:08 pm


  5. freshhell permalink
    July 12, 2015 7:42 pm

    Aw, I think you made that child’s life. And her mom. xxoo

  6. eleanorio permalink
    July 12, 2015 9:34 pm

    Music matters.

  7. July 14, 2015 3:58 pm

    Oh, what a lovely story. You’re nice, lady.

  8. Laura permalink
    July 16, 2015 5:55 pm

    Oh Harriet, I work with wonderful children and this made my day. Thank you.

  9. July 19, 2015 12:44 pm

    Update: E and H came back today. We’re doing some mini lessons after services for the summer. If they’re still interested in the fall, I’ll help them find someone who can teach them more regularly.

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