I was a Gospel singer tonight. One of my life goals is to sing in a Gospel choir. Now, I’ve spent many years singing professionally. Mostly Off Broadway and Regional Theater. I have wanted to sing Gospel Music, forever! Did I mention I am an Irish Catholic from Boston? There were no gospel churches where I grew up. Or, if there were, I certainly didn’t know about them. I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t Irish Catholic until I was in 9th Grade. It was a boyfriend who was Protestant. That was pretty exotic. I remember one Christmas, I was invited to go to his church for a Christmas week service. My mother told me, “absolutely not”. She said I was not a Protestant, and that would be against our religion. It made no sense to me, much like her rules about never eating at McDonald’s (only poor people ate there) and not being friends with people who rented apartments.(more poor people) Oh, also people who get divorced. I was frowned upon being friends with people like that. They were on the “Do Not Call” list, too. So many invisible rules, seemingly very arbitrary, with no explanations.
So, you can imagine what happened when I met my husband, who was Jewish. I was intrigued. Jews weren’t even on my radar. The interesting thing about growing up so sheltered (segregated) is, I had no preconceived notions.The exact opposite of what you think might happen, happened. I did not become prejudiced. Although my parents had their own messed up ideas about race and religion, I didn’t feel hatred or superiority about anyone. I did, for some reason, think everyone belonged to a country club and had no less than 5 kids. We had the least amount of kids in our neighborhood! My friends had 8,9,10 kids. We had five kids for a very long time- then my mother had my sister Nancy, when I was 11 or 12. That was embarrassing.
You would think I would have been jaded, growing up so isolated. Instead, I was completely naive. The result was this natural curiosity to want to know all about people from other backgrounds and beliefs. I still do. Instead of being prejudiced, I was fascinated with people who were different from me. Even by the time I went to college, I really hadn’t been exposed to other cultures or beliefs. One of the first conversations I had with my husband Scott was, “So, what does that mean to you, to be a Jew?” I still have a curiosity about people. I also do not understand hate.
When I was 16, I went with my friends to an amusement park in Rhode Island. I was on line for the roller coaster, and a bunch of girls started pushing me, for no reason at all. I turned around and told them, “Hey, knock it off and stop pushing me.” The result was getting the crap beat out of me. When I got home, my parents were furious! Let’s just say, I heard a lot of racial slurs come out of my Dads’ mouth, when he asked what the kids looked like. I was truly shocked! I remember telling my parents the kids didn’t beat me up because they were black- they beat me up because they were jerks! Both my parents were stunned with my response. They were forced to deal with their own ideas about hate.
Tonight, a woman asked me how I found out about the gospel choir ( I didn’t exactly fit in at rehearsal/open chair night). For those of you who don’t know me, I have a big voice. A very big voice. It doesn’t look like it should come out of me. I also don’t look like an opera singer. I look more like I should be playing golf, at the nearest country club. (see belief systems about golfing) My first singing job was at at Temple, for High Holy Days. I remember when the Cantor came in to rehearse, he looked at me and said, “You are the soloist?” I was the only woman who did not have a head scarf on, my blond curls rolling down the middle on my back. “Yeah, I said. “I got game. You’ll see.” Learning to sing in Hebrew is a lot like Opera.
So, tonight, looking like I had a tee time at 7a.m., I was escorted to a chair in the first soprano section. I was asked four times if I was a first soprano. That is singer code for, “you better bring it, or else.” To be a first soprano is like saying you are related to Miriah Carey. As a singer in New York, I also learned the phrase, “it ain’t braggin’ if you can do it”. So, I brought it. That’s what I like about singing.It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like. If you got game, you got game. It is a lot like the way I look at differences in people. Packages can be deceiving.