Gaiety Lost, My Mother, and Ave Maria – The Difference Between Now and Then, by Pr. Rossow
My mother is in town for Christmas and I got to hear her retell a story about standing up for Confessional doctrine. It is all about her operatic voice and the singing of Ave Maria.
Ave Maria is not a Christmas song per se but it gets a lot of air time during the season. It is basically a prayer asking the mother Mary to care for her followers.
My mother gave up any hope of using her voice professionally in order to have children and care for them, a choice for which I am greatly appreciative. She gave up singing professionally but did not lose the voice but I must confess that I was often embarrassed sitting in the church pew with people looking at us as she sang the only way her voice would come out – with a big, operatic, soprano sound. To me it sounded shrill, but that is the way it is with a little boy growing up in rural Iowa who would die over each Iowa Hawkeye football loss yet had no idea who Caruso was let alone Lilly Pons. It was only within the last few years that I have come to appreciate an operatic voice. (We have two of them at our church that make me melt each time I hear them.)
Here is the story. When she was a young single Lutheran teacher in Fort Dodge, Iowa she sang a bit in the local music scene. One year she was asked to sing a solo with the Men’s Glee Club. She even toured with them in their bus to tiny little towns in central Iowa. The director’s claim to fame was that he was Fred Waring’s pianist for a stint.
Her principal from St. Paul’s Lutheran School was not really fond of the fact that she was touring with the boys and singing light opera no less. One year the director was so pleased with her solo that he planned on having her sing two solos at the coming year’s Christmas concert. One of those songs was Ave Maria. Being a dutiful Lutheran school teacher she figured it was best to check with her pastor before singing such a “catholic” song. The pastor, who was the pastor who would eventually baptize me, simply asked her if she believed those lyrics. She said “no.” He then quietly said “I guess you have your answer then.” It was a clever way of getting her to the right answer without forcing it on her. So she told the director she could not sing the song. She was never asked to sing a solo again for the Glee Club. That was gaiety lost I guess. But it was a gain for confessional and evangelical gumption.
I asked her if the pastor was conservative. She told me they didn’t even have to worry about such things back then (the early 1950’s).
My mother finished the story by saying “It’s probably different now.” She looked at her pastor son and said “Most pastors now would probably say it’s OK for artistic reasons.” I think that was a test. In many cases I fear she is right and that speaks volumes about Lutheranism today. The old days had their faults, but my mother’s pastor represents a time that was certainly better in many ways, having a good, evangelical Lutheran conscience was one of them.