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Sunday, May 4, 2014

This February....

I wavered on whether or not to reenter Hanover Has Talent. The auditions and rehearsals tended to be too early or too late or simply too long. I didn’t have the musical assistance of Maestro Pat this year, since his wife’s passing. I honestly didn’t know what I was going to sing. My dad and I experimented with premise of doing a medley of “English Recusant” songs, such as Newman’s “Lead Kindly Light”, “Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline”, with a tune written by Loreena McKennitt, and Tolkien’s “Edge of Night,” from the LotR Trilogy performed by Billy Boyd. I was also tempted to toss in Chesterton’s rollicking “Rolling English Road.” But all threads didn’t’ sew together very well, and we had zero background instrumentals, so I was tempted to quite.
    Then, late on the night before the audition, my dad convinced me to stick it out and perform my personal composition, “Our Lady of Britannia.” I agreed it was appropriate, as I feel that song is very much my personal mission statement and validation of the love that I have for Britain’s Catholic heritage. Hence, next morning, we headed down to the local UCC church to audition, and I was accepted. We were also informed that this year the contest would be held at the Eichelberger Performing Arts Center and that the sound systems were splendiferous. Why do these thing never live up to the legend, I wonder???

    On rehearsal night, I met up with my friend from church, Aubryana, who was going to be singing “Memories” from the musical Cats. We watched the panoply of performances from our seats in the bleachers, waiting for our turns. One elderly gentleman named Glen stood out in particular as he did a soft shoe dance and lip-sung Sammy Davis’ “One.” There were a lot of other dancers whose talented presentation was only dimmed by their skimpy choice in costuming, exposing as much as possible even in the winter cold.

    All this time, it was becoming increasingly evident that the mics were not quite as marvelous as foretold. When my turn came to sing, the tin-can reverb rattled in my head and prevented me from hearing myself properly. In addition to this, I was worried that my pre-recorded keyboard harp instrumental lacked the right zooph, and had previously attempted get a synthesizer added to the track by Ken, heir to Pat’s Studio Empire. But it was in vain at such a late date without offering him quite a fee for his services! Hence I was feeling just a tad uncomfortable with the whole set-up. I was slightly tempted to bow out the night before, but then felt obligated to go through with it since I did sign up.

    The next morning was frigid, and the nip in the air easily penetrated my Renaissance-style dress. I met with my fellow female contestants in the ladies’ dressing room, complete with a star on the door and broad mirrors inside. There we got to talking about varied topics, such as Disney Pixar films, school, elderly relatives, musicals, etc. Then as the show began, we moved up to the back-stage area. I once again encountered Derik, big-voice-YAM extraordinaire, who paced about doing vocal exercise to prepare himself to sing “You Raise Me Up.” Since there was an award of free studio recording time to whoever got the most claps, he was also quite keen to hear how everyone else was faring!

    The overall feeling that I took away from the contest was that I was experiencing a tapestry of stories being sewn together. From the unrequited love of Les Miserables sung by Tory in the her revolutionary beret and scarf, to the pulse-pounding guitar chords of “Grenade” by Taylor in her blue jeans, to the painful nostalgia of “Memories” sung by Aubryana in her dazzling White evening gown, to the merry antics of Cameron playing “Wipe-Out” on his drum and Ms. Linda having to keep her bargain to dance with it, to Glen dancing and Mr. Mummert sitting astride his cello and plucking it enthusiastically, to Paul the venerable country guitarist. It was all a colorful display, fully of artistic energy.

    When my turn came, I must much more nervous than I thought I would be. I suppose performers begin to nurture the false belief that they have somehow “outgrown” stage-fright at a certain point. It doesn’t really hold water, especially confronted with tinny mics! Sitting in the chair just beyond the curtain and listing to Ms. Linda announce me, I started to feel rather ill. When I finally came out on the stage, though, I actually felt a lot better that I thought I would since the lights were so bright I couldn’t really see much of the audience and found myself gesturing naturally as I sang and getting the real feel of it. My ever-so-wonderful papa managed to get up to the top of the balcony and ask the soundman to cut down on the reverb, so the tin-can-effect was greatly diluted.

    At the end of the contest, we all marched out on stage to find out who came out on top this year. To my amazement, I was the first one called on to step forward as a finalist! I honestly didn’t expect this, as my music paled in comparison to some of the others. But then perhaps in some strange way, the simplicity of it highlighted my voice better. Next up was Derik, then Cameron, then Paul, then, amazingly, Glen. Paul won the most claps and got free studio time. Aubryana little sister wound up winning audience favorite. The rest of us received bouquets of roses and waited for the judges’ final decision. I was standing next to Derik, and could tell he assumed he had it in the bag.

   Then wonder of wonders…..they chose Glen!!! Derik had the most amusing strained smirk I have ever seen as Glen burst into tears and the audience erupted in chants of “Glen!! Glen!! Glen!!” The fact is that Glen had been a beloved teacher and his students had come out to support him. Also, the judges knew he needed the win most, emotionally and financially. His mom, with whom he had been very close, and the two of them had consistently gone to shows together. He may not have done the best act in the world, and grumblers might have cause to say it was not blind judgment. But the subsequent turn of events proved that he was, indeed, the fittest man to be winner.

    Several weeks afterwards, I got a letter in the mail from Glen and a check for $50. He had split the rest of his winnings between a needed car repair, a former student who had terminal cancer, and the rest of the finalists. With the money, I purchased a bodhran drum which is now my heart’s delight since I love the feeling of almost riding within a piece of music and becoming an intrinsic part of it. Perhaps Glen’s winning was a lesson for everyone. It brings to mind a Bible verse: “The Lord judges not by appearances, but by the heart.”

    Per my participation in Hanover Has Talent, I was signed up to take part in a radio broadcast at the local WHBR Real Country station for their Shelter the Homeless Marathon. However, things on the home front became a bit travailing due to the huge ice storm that struck the east coast and conked out our power. And when the electricity goes out around here, it means no running water either! ‘Tis one of the downsides of country living. Hence, my mother and father and I had to lug up water bottles from down in the basement, light lots of candles and battery-operated lanterns, huddle around the wood-burning stove, and get used to a really depressing few days without warm food, TV, internet, CD player, etc.

    In spite of these obstacles, we managed to make it out for the radio show where I was interviewed about the story behind the writing of “Our Lady of Britannia” and my personal interests. I explained how the song was very much of a tribute to Catholicism in Britain and the trials of the Catholic martyrs. It is also a prayer for The United Kingdom, and, as the final stanza says that she should “stand united, a stronghold for the free.” Also, first and foremost, it contains the hope that Britain will return to both their worship of Jesus Christ and devotion to His Blessed Mother. Then I sang the song.

    When we returned home that evening, the lights were still out and life still on hold, I decided to crack open G.K. Chesterton’s epic “The Ballad of the White Horse”. Reading it by candlelight added to the impression of timelessness the piece exudes. With regards to a story blending history and legend with timeless philosophy and theology, it stands among the literary masterpieces of all time. I would love to hear some of it put to music and sung. Well, actually, a little piece has been, in “Our Lady of Britannia”:

When Alfred led his warriors to battle for the land
Within the White Horse Valley, thou gave him strength to stand
Seven Swords were pierced through thy heart, and one was in thy hand
Our Lady of Britannia, Ora Pro Nobis!


Reading by Candlight


  1. Congratulations about doing the radio show! That's awesome!

  2. Thanks, Emerald. It was pretty exciting. The last time I was on radio was when I was a little girl and did a "Did You Know?" segment for a program called "Better Living" at the same radio station (WHBR Hanover). The rest of my "appearances", up until my latest, have been calling through to call-in shows!