It is not enough to have a song on your lips; you must also have a song in your heart.
(Hymnwriter Fanny Crosby, blinded by disease after her birth)
My Musical Journey
I am thankful everyday for the gift of song in my life. I didn't grow up with music, so it makes me even more appreciative of the rich musical life I've had. Through music, I have felt inspired and hopeful in my thoughts and in my heart through all the decades of my life. Music has brought such joy!
When elderly neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Luebke asked if they could take me to their church on Sundays, they would never know how that invitation would change a little girl's life forever. My six-year old memory of sitting between them in their pick-up truck as we drove to a little white church far out of town in San Antonio is still imprinted on my mind. After church, a group of people piled into the back of their pick-up truck, and left Samm's Drive for a radio station that was even farther out in the country. It was at the radio station that I was given the "task" of singing a song I had learned in church. I was placed on a box in front of a microphone (I had no idea what this was), and sang an old gospel hymn, "Leaning On the Everlasting Arms." I remember guitars, an accordian, and singers. Someone must have heard me singing in church and thought it would be nice to have a child sing on the church's radio program. I was able to go to church with the Luebke's for a short time thereafter; but then after moving away from these kindly neighbors, I would not be allowed to go to church again until I was about 11 or 12 years old. Amazingly, it was in that little church that I first experienced the warm, loving presence of God who would strengthen and comfort me during the abusive years to come. It was there that a group of adults prayed for me, put their hands on my head and blessed me. It was the first time I experienced prayer. From then on, God and singing had a home in my heart.
Amazingly, a few years ago, I was able to find that simple, little white church on Samm's Drive in San Antonio! After 45 years, it was still there!
Junior High and High School
I sang my way through school in choirs, musicals, talent shows, school assemblies, solo and choral competitions, and ensembles. I had singing girlfriends, and we harmonized our way through recesses and lunchtimes, singing the Motown girl-group songs, and anything that came from a Broadway musical. My girlfriend Caprice and I participated in a local MIss Teenage America Pageant, and both ended up in the finals. She sang "It Might As Well Be Spring" from the film "State Fair" and I sang "The Sound of Music" from the musical. We both won transistor radios and twenty-five dollar savings bonds, and in the 60's, those were very nice prizes!
Up With People
In the summer before my senior year in high school, I worked and saved money to fly to New York (with a couple of my girlfriends) to audition for an international traveling musical group we had seen and heard at a local performance. This was another life-changer! I auditioned in New York, and was selected to tour with the original cast of Up With People, a dynamic musical organization that put forth a positive message of equality and peace. I am so grateful to Director Herbie Allen who gave this small-town girl the opportunity to sing his music, and to perform and travel. I did my senior year of high school "on the road" on a bus, along with a great group of young people who were doing the same. We were the high school "kids" who studied during the day, while the college grads did daytime performances and other much more enjoyable things. Our student schedule was tight: Get up early, study (on the bus, in a restaurant, or a room somewhere), have lunch, study some more, go to rehearsal, have dinner, get on stage and perform, meet your host family. Then, the next morning: Say goodbye to your host family, travel to the next destination, and repeat. The multiple opportunities to learn about courtesies (writing thank you notes to our host families, cleaning up after ourselves and leaving the smallest "footprint" for our hosts to deal with when we left their homes) provided some "normalcy" even though I was living out of a suitcase and seeing a new town or city almost everyday. I experienced norms such as having meals with families, or with our large group, and always conversing in good, civilized ways. All of this provided a tremendous education and an opportunity for me to do some "catching up" with life. The overriding UWP travel learning was that of not making comparisons to our home cultures, but of appreciating all that was new, wherever we were at the moment. It was a training ground for which I can never give enough thanks to the UWP Organization! While I was touring, we criss-crossed the U.S. and also went to Europe. Every day was an opportunity to learn something new!
I started college, participated in a choir tour, and was in the musical West Side Story during a semester when I was deciding what to do next.
The decision I made was to make a geographic move. I ended up working for Special Services at Fort Ord in Monterey during the time that it was the Basic Training Base for those who had been drafted for the Vietnam War.
The Special Services Clubs provided free coffee, donuts, cookies, and reading materials that could be enjoyed in a comfortable environment. We checked out guitars, drums, and other instruments, and vinyl record albums for playing and listening in the music rooms. We also checked out pool cues and ping pong equipment, and the guys taught me how to play pool and ping pong quite well. We organized activities, talent shows, bingo, and brought in outside entertainers. One of my favorite activities, though, was sitting at the player piano with a young recruit, as we led sing-alongs. We'd put in the piano rolls, and he'd start pedaling away while we all sang some really old, but fun songs! I sang duets with my new guitar-playing girlfriend who was also working in the Service Club. Her beautiful alto voice and my soprano voice blended so well, and we enjoyed playing our guitars and singing together at Fort Ord, and at the surrounding military bases.
The United Service Organization - USO
It was audition day for the Hollywood USO, and there I was, in a huge warehouse in L.A. that was lined with sound equipment and dozens of professional bands and entertainers who were hoping to be selected for the overseas USO tours. Seated at a long table were the USO director and many talent-finding people. This audition made me nervous, so much so that I embarrassingly forgot the words to my very familiar song. As I walked away, a very kind voice (the USO director) called me back and said, “Take a deep breath and please sing for us when you’re ready.” I have never forgotten those exact words! So, I did that, and was able to give a respectable rendition of my song. As I was putting my guitar in its case, a woman caught up with me and said, "Mr. Sheldon would like to see you at the USO office on Sunset Blvd. tomorrow morning. Can you be there?" I asked why, and she said, "Because you've got to get your paperwork, passport, and immunizations for your tour.” The not-so-nice-sounds during my initially-botched audition, were replaced by a contrasting quiet as word began to spread that this young, amateur singer had been selected on the spot to go on tour.
I toured twice for the USO, and am so grateful for Director Jimmy Sheldon's encouragement and support, and for taking a chance on an unknown, young singer.
My first tour took me to Guam, Okinawa, the Philippines, Japan and South Korea.
I returned home, got a call from the Hollywood office, and started preparing to go to Vietnam and Thailand for my second tour.
After returning home, I got another Hollywood USO call to do a tour in the Mediterranean, but for personal reasons, I couldn't accept the offer.
*While I was in Vietnam, that young recruit who helped me at the player piano at Ft. Ord met up with me at China Beach, and we had pizza and cokes together seated under the stars in the outdoor movie theater. After having toured the hospital, including the children's ward, having some time with this friend was so helpful.
*My guitar/vocal duet Ft. Ord girlfriend and I had a reunion a few years ago, after not having seen each other since the 70's. Although our lives had taken such different paths, we both ended up as Moms and English teachers! She still is one of my favorite voices on this planet!
In Atlanta, Nashville and Orlando, I tried out some country western songs, and sang with professional musicians and house bands. It was fun trying to "make it" in the music business, and the reception to my country singing was surprisingly good. However that competitive life wasn't for me.
Returning to My Heart's Musical Home
Eventually, I returned to what I had always loved the most- singing the music of my faith. In churches, I organized seasonal programs, directed children's and adult choirs, and led congregational music. I loved (and still do) creating opportunities for people to use their musical talents to sing with others, and to express their faith through music. It has been one of my life's passions!
In my late 30's, I rediscovered my classical soprano voice, and auditioned for local choral groups. I enjoyed the challenges of singing in Latin, German, Hebrew, French, and well-articulated English. I owe so much gratitude to Mr. McIntyre, my high school choir teacher, who "believed" in me, and gave me free vocal coaching at 7am during the week in our high school's choir room. His lessons and coaching prepared me so well that I excelled in the classical solo competitions he encouraged me to enter. This would never have happened without his guidance! Many years ago, I was able to send him a letter thanking him for how he had helped change my life.
My Past Choral Memberships
I loved singing with choral groups, and I usually sat in the front row (behind the orchestra). What a view, and what a premium seat for listening to gifted musicians from around the world! I sang with professional and semi-professional choral groups, and especially loved singing with the Carmel Bach Festival Chorus and Monterey Symphony Chorus!
Concert Halls and Venues
I sang in concert halls, stadiums, arenas, military bases, and military hospitals across the US, in Europe, and in the Far East. Every experience and performance moved me toward freedom from my past, and toward a better life. Additionally, hundreds of hours on stages rehearsing and performing provided excellent musical training I never could have afforded! Because wonderful, kind, professional music people encouraged me, I was able to develop talents that had gone unnoticed and undeveloped during my childhood and early teen years.
Singing in Vietnam
My time spent with our troops in the military hospitals, airbases and firebases of my Far East USO tours holds a quiet, sacred space in my heart. It was an unimaginable time filled with despair, pain, and sorrow, and this “trio” of emotions hung heavily in the hospital wards and rooms where I took my guitar and sang. We were so young, and “expendable.” Anyone who can glorify war hasn’t seen the charred body of another human being, or stood on a tarmac as critically wounded young men are being hurried off the chopper and rushed to surgery. The price for what I have called “an old man’s war’ - because our young generation never had a voice, and yet, we suffered all the loss- was ridiculously, insanely high. Many in my generation, and the current generation of those who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan- are still paying the price in ongoing surgeries, rehabilitation, physical therapy, prostheses fittings, addictions, PTSD, mental health struggles, and suicide. As the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary sang regarding the powerful older ones who send the powerless younger ones to war- When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?
As the years went by, my faith became a vital part of my life, and the songs that attached themselves to my mind and heart reflected how I was growing and changing. This favorite hymn articulates the spiritual part of my journey:
Great Is Your Faithfulness
Great is Your faithfulness, O God my Father.
There is no shadow of turning with you. You do not change, Your compassions they fail not. As You have been, You forever will be.
Great is Your faithfulness, great is Your faithfulness; morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Your hand has provided.
Great is Your faithfulness, Lord unto me.
(from the Old Testament Book of Lamentations)