April 6, 2007

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Musing about music in the Easter season

Shirley Vogler Meister“In my Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it, I’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade …” Songwriter Irving Berlin produced this jewel of a song that is sweetly archaic now since hats are no longer the vogue.

I sometimes think if women were still required to wear hats to church, the chapeau industry would still be booming.

Readers too young to remember the custom of women covering their heads will probably laugh at this former custom: We could wear chapel veils instead and, if one wasn’t available, we could pin on a handkerchief. Since feminine handkerchiefs are out of vogue, too, a tissue would have to do.

As for Irving Berlin, who died at 101, he was a Russian-American Jewish composer and lyricist. He wrote more than 3,000 songs, including “White Christmas,” “God Bless America,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “There’s No Business like Show Business.” He also produced 17 film scores and 21 Broadway scores even though he never learned to read music beyond a rudimentary level.

His first wife died from typhoid fever five months after their marriage, and 14 years later, he married a devout Irish-American Catholic writer. Their only son died as an infant on Christmas day. Neither Easter nor Christmas can be celebrated without hearing Berlin’s music.

Easter music for the general public seems limited now, but church music is increasingly beautiful. Not long ago, a CD titled “Salvation” was released featuring the beautiful voice of Melissa Wood Buechler, with background vocals by The Wood Sisters: Janie Richardt, Jackie Wood, Ellen Wood, Carolyn Charles, Julia Wood, Jennifer Wood Thompson and, of course, Melissa.

I have listened to this CD repeatedly as have those to whom I’ve given them as gifts. Each listener seems to single out a favorite, from “Amazing Grace,” “Hear Us, Heal Us,” “There is Only Love,” “Ave Maria,” “Our Father,” “Rain Down,” “Peace Prayer,” “You are Mine,” “Eye Has Not Seen” and “Daughters of God.”

Several are especially appropriate for the entire Easter season, but “There is Only Love” says it all: Love is a legacy from Jesus Christ. He loved us so much that he died for us and, through the Holy Spirit, we are commissioned to share that love.

Whether heard in the comfort of our homes or rejoicing with choirs and congregations who celebrate the risen Christ, music is an integral part of the Easter season.

The triumph of the Resurrection is the crux of our Christian faith. Even the traditional Easter egg is a symbol of the Resurrection because it comes from a Saxon word, “oster,” which means “to rise.”

May the Easter season help us rejoice in springtime after an introspective and healing Lent.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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