It’s simply simple letters that create a symphony. EGBDFA on the top and the bottom is FACE. They total 88 piano keys. In between them are lots of sharps and flats that truly add to the emerging musical composition and there are those sharps and flats that interrupt our lives. Those periodic sharp edges that call for our attention and those often flats that leave us, well, flat until we pick ourselves up again and again and once more again.
It’s music and Michael plays many of those 88 sounds each week making this weekly gathering of prayer joyful. “Joy.” An unusual word that we usually hear only in church but dismiss every achieving within our lives. Joy is always just around that next corner or it’s the year after this awful year. (Or is it that year after the next year!?) Elusive and evasive, joy seems to be the reward for anyone else but me. Music has always helped define a moment in my life or re-solidify it when I hear the song again. What would we do without music? Who would we be without music? Who are we with music?
Rap? That’s not music. Hell, I can do rap. “…I’m Fr. Joe…I went to the show…I let one go…” That’s not music.
For me it was 1965 and listening to “Downtown” by Petula Clark and “Oh, How Happy” by Shades of Blue played on my Sears Silvertone turntable; again and again. I must have driven my mother nuts. The songs just sounded so good. I mentioned Petula to a co-worker and she had no idea who I was talking about!
My pretend radio show in my bedroom the same year was “Bachelor In Paradise” by Henry Mancini. It was my theme song opening up my imagined radio show in front of an imaginary audience. The song had a nice, light sound to it to pretend being on the radio which eventually did happen. 1966 it was lip-syncing to “Happy Together” by The Turtles at my grade school graduation. Thirty years later I meet two classmates who married and that’s all they remember about me during our eight years together of Catholic education.
If you suspect an affair in your spouse I wouldn’t advise buying Luther Vandross’, “If Loving You Is Wrong I Don’t Wanna Be Right,” or Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones.” You may wish to consider Nancy Sinatra’s, “These Boots Are Made For Walking.”
I decide to end a fourteen year run of our WTMJ radio call-in show and driving to the station for the last time on a Sunday night, The Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rosie sing, “It’s Too Late To Turn Back Now.” I smiled that my decision was shared by singing artists. Laying prostrate at St. Gregory the Great Church and waiting for the ordination oils to be applied to my hands, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” runs through my head. (I’m told that I’m more spiritual than religious, whatever that means.)
Breaking curfew and escaping the high school seminary in St. Nazianz the four of us hitchhike to Manitowoc and knock on the door of radio’s WOMT. The announcer runs down the stairs and finally answers and we request the song, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” by The Animals. We walk to Big Boy restaurant and wait for the song to the played. He played it. I replaced that same Manitowoc announcer three years later when he placed “Lay, Lady, Lay” by Bob Dylan on one of the two turntables and walked out of the building leaving me on my own for six glorious hours of playing rock music.
You “cued” up the “45 record” in those days. The turntable swung both ways as you listened for the first note and then a half turn back. You were all set then to introduce the record and turn it on. The problem was that after a few “cues up” a scratch was audible so the second or third note need to be chosen and needed to talk louder in your introduction to hide the scratches. For me, that was radio as it was meant to be. But I was stuck with “Jagodensky.” I needed a more clever name and my brother suggests “Joe Gerard” (my middle name) so I finally became a rock jock.
Our Christian faith is so often reduced to things: You and God when our faith is so much more than that. Do you focus on your stupid sins and failures or do you focus on God’s eternal mercy which just may help you resolve your stupid sins and failures? Pope Francis calls this year a “Year of Mercy.” That’s only this year. God’s mercy is celebrated for centuries. It’s our collective Christian theme song. But how often do we prefer Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally” instead of God’s mercy.
“In a little while from now, If i’m not feeling any less sour
I promise myself to treat myself, And visit a nearby tower
And climbing to the top will throw myself off…Alone again, naturally.”
Joy is never a corner away nor is joy a year you dream of. Joy is your hand outstretched toward someone greater and wiser than yourself who passes back to you an armful of wisdom to “help the medicine go done.” (that’s from the “Sound of Music.”)
A high school senior and my weekend radio Manitowoc shift is Saturday nights from 6:30 to midnight and Sundays 6:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and then back to the seminary. Sunday morning music was soothing and calm like “Just A Cup of Coffee” by Carmen McRae is the one I recall the best. Then a local Sunday Lutheran service for an hour followed by more songs by Ray Conniff and Bert Kaempfert than both would have wanted to hear. The news of the day at Noon was followed by a Polka Party before the Sunday Packer game.
By 4:00 on a Sunday afternoon, I already was a Saturday night rock jock, the smooth-sounding WGN’s Franklin MacCormack Sunday mornings, Walter Cronkite and the Polish Polka Prince – all before Bart Starr took the field.
1970 and The Carpenters release “Close to You.” I was blown away. I played it twice in a row that night. I’m happy to say that I introduced Manitowoc listeners to James Taylor when I found, “Fire and Rain.”
Joy is never elusive when it’s only a few notes away from your heart. Joy is when that sharp or flat finds the key right next to it full of harmonious harmonies. That’s the key that opens the musical keys to a joy-filled life. It’s called music. It’s called joy. It’s called 88 reasons to love life regardless of what life imposes upon you or what you impose upon your own life. It’s called every “Opening Song” that Michael plays within this sacred place and rousing closing song to send us forth into a new week or adventure and capturing a bit, at least, of that joy.
Music. I love it and I end where I began with a musical artist my co-worker never hear of but I love hearing and singing at full volume.
“Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa nova You’ll be dancing with ’em too before the night is over Happy again. The lights are much brighter there You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares and go…”
A Great Gift Idea
A new book by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Available at Amazon.com
Paperback or Kindle is $14.95. Enjoyable reading.