It began in mid-summer with a very unexpected question posed to me by Betty (Kyle) Peterson, a new member of my senior choir at Holy Communion: would I be willing to write a new composition in memory of her beloved parents? The hope was that the piece might be sung by the Choral Arts Society of southeast Wisconsin for their season-opening concert on October 10th. It’s the first time such a thing had been requested of me, and as I said Yes I felt a sudden substantial weight resting on my shoulders. What a responsibility- to try and do justice to the memory of two fine human beings. But if Betty was moved to ask this of me, I was willing to try.
The first step was to learn what I could about Ruth and Gene Kyle, who had themselves been treasured members of the Racine Choral Arts Society for many years. I invited Betty to come over one afternoon to talk with me about her parents – their background, their personalities, their values – the things they most loved – those qualities which they most earnestly embraced. What a joy this conversation was, and by the time we were done I felt like I knew Ruth and Gene as friends. (In fact, I had only met them a couple of times and did not know them well at all.)
At first the plan was that I would write something very Irish in character and thought about a couple of beautiful Irish melodies that might serve nicely as the musical framework of the piece; I also selected several different Irish poems as potential lyrics. But the more I looked at the poems, the less they seemed to fit the Kyles. . . who more than anything were paragons of Hospitality- the kind of people whose home was always full of visitors, young and old alike- and people who loved to laugh. Eventually, I realized that there was no poem that was going to say what I thought needed to be said about the Kyles and that I would need to write one of my own. And here are the words I crafted:
In our loving words of welcome. . . In the sharing of a meal. .
In the sound of joyous laughter. . .In this love is made real.
In the gentle care of children. .In the singing of our songs. .
In our play & in our pleasure. . In this love is made strong.
In the scaling of tell mountains. . .
when for finish lines we strive. . .
As we ride the falls together. . .
our love is made alive.
As we bear each other’s burdens. . .
stand with them in their despair. . .
In our simple deeds of kindness. . .
splendid love do we share.
As we come to love our neighbor. . .
as we come to understand
what it means to be a family. . .
as we clasp each other’s hands. . .
Love is made Real. Love is made True.
Something we give and live and do.
Tearing down walls. Tearing down fear.
Love is the only reason we are here.
Actually, come to think of it, when I shared these lyrics with Betty, the second phrase was “in the making of a meal. . .” and since the song was about both of her parents and her dad wasn’t much of a cook, she asked if the phrase could be changed to “in the sharing of a meal. . . “ which was much better anyway. But aside from that one minor matter, she was delighted with the text – which was my signal to move ahead with the music.
I’ll never forget the night that I brought the rough draft of the music to a Choral Arts Society rehearsal to see what it sounded like. . . but when I looked out over the group and saw Betty in the alto section, I realized that it would not be fair to her to have her hear it for the first time as the group was singing through it – so I decided to wait until the end of the rehearsal, which allowed me to take Betty to another room during the break and sing it for her privately. And when I finished and saw tears steaming down her cheeks, I was relieved that I had thought to share it with her quietly and privately. And more than that, I was immensely relieved and pleased that Betty liked the piece as much as she did. Only in that moment did I fully realize how important this undertaking was – not only to her but also to me.
Anyway, last night was the Choral Arts concert -with Caritas and Musici Amici as special guests. Half of the evening’s pieces were either compositions or arrangements of mine, and the second to the last piece of the night was “Love is Made Real” – with Caritas and the Choral Arts Society joining forces and Ann Lemar Heide playing violin. And I don’t know if it was Ruth and Gene looking down or just what, but it was as though heaven itself was shepherding the performance of that song from the first measure to the last. I wouldn’t have changed one iota of the singing or Ann’s playing – it was just about as perfect a performance of the song as could have possibly happened. And for all the great moments I enjoyed that night, by far the most meaningful was this one because I knew that someone who deeply misses her mom and dad was given some comfort.
pictured above: Betty Kyle at the far right, with two of her siblings, after Saturday night’s concert.