Friday, August 7, 2015

With a Voice of Singing....

Mary Anderson Playing Piano in
the Choir Room.
We all have had a person (or people) who have made a great impact on our lives.  This weekend I was able to join friends from many years ago.  We gathered to celebrate in song.  We all had been members of the Chapel Choir at Monroe Street United Methodist Church in Toledo, OH.  Our celebration was to honor Mary Anderson, our Minister of Music, whose love of music and dedication to youth was a gift that many of us did not appreciate until we got into the real world.

But I must back up and tell you  my first experience with the Chapel Choir.  My sister and I were not part of the choir program that started with the Cherub Choir for children 3-4 years old.  Linda and I moved to Toledo when she was a sophomore in high school and I was in the eighth grade.  Our family left a small country church, Salem Methodist, when we made that move.  This small church had nurtured us, an intimate and close congregation where we knew everyone. Salem also had the best pot lucks (or as we called them "pitch ins") full of all types of home made treats.  There were lots of tears on our last Sunday at Salem and we wondered if we would ever find another church like Salem.

Our parents planned to attend a number of churches in Toledo and then make a family decision on which we thought would be best.  The first church was Monroe Street.  It was huge!  Sitting in the pew I remember wondering if I would ever fit would I find my way to the youth classes.  And then it happened!  I heard beautiful harmony coming from the back of the church...voices of a choir...soft and full of joy. And then silence....until the organ blared me into attention.  I sat upright, every cell in my body full of electricity.  What happened next, sent chills through me....the choir, singing, walked down the aisle.  First the men....I turned around to see a double line of high school students walking to the front of the church.  It seemed to go on forever. They filed to the front of the church and were seated in the choir section.

At that moment I knew...I wanted to be a part of that!  I think Linda must have felt the same thing because we convinced our parents at Sunday lunch that we did not want to go to another church...we knew that this was the place.  This was the perfect choir for Linda as she had already had voice training and fit right in.  Since I was in the eighth grade, I was a member of the Cecilia Choir, which was for 7th and 8th grade girls.  There was also a choir for the 7th and 8th grade boys.  In fact, there were eight choirs!  Cherub - 3-5 year old, Bethlehem - 1st & 2nd grade, Carol - 3rd & 4th grade, Gloria - 5th & 6th grade, Cecilia - 7th & 8th grade girls, Boys 7th & 8th grade, Chapel - High School, and the Wesleyan Choir which was the adult choir.

Here are some pictures of the choirs.  Thanks, Ann Luppens Laney for sharing your family's pictures.

I think this is the Bethlehem Choir.  Sharon Luppens Harris
is on the far right, top row.

I think this is the Carol Choir.  Ann Luppens is 7th from the left, front row.
Pam Hostetter is 10th from the left, and I think her cousin, Kay Kern is
to the right of Pam.

Boys' Choir

Mary Anderson was the backbone who inspired so many children and young people to be part of this music program.  She instilled high expectations, discipline and a love of music in her students.  This is a typical weekend for a high school Chapel Choir member:  Saturday morning: 8:00 am- 12:00 was girls' sectionals. Altos the first hour, Sopranos the second hour, Altos and Sopranos together and then individuals the last hour.  Yes, she worked individually with each of us to improve our voices.  The boys had their sectionals before choir practice (I think...not sure how long).  On Sunday at 8:30 am we had practice before the 9:00 service.  We sang every Sunday at the first service.  Sunday afternoon at 5:00 was our regular practice.  After practice we would have a dinner (made by our parents) and then we would have MYF (youth group).  It was wonderful.

I never felt like I HAD to do this....I felt excited to go to practice and sectionals. We must have all felt this way.  A few of the attendees at our reunion told the story of the Prom conflict.  Prom was on a Saturday.  It was going to be a late night.  Mrs. Anderson told the choir that she still expected them in the choir room at 8:30 sharp.  Some of the choir members feared they might sleep in, so sneaked through an open window at the church and spent the night there so as not to miss choir on Sunday morning.
Monroe Street United Methodist Chapel Choir...not sure of the date...early 1960s is my guess.

 Mary not only challenged us with difficult music...she expected us to learn it...she had faith that we would meet the challenge.  She arranged through the Choir Guild to send a number of high school students (each summer) to Choir Camp at Westminster Choir College in New Jersey.  How excited I was when I was chosen to go!  Those of us who went to choir camp were then expected to help with the younger choirs.  That was another way that Mary strengthened the choir program. 
This is when I was in the choir.  We travelled to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands and England in 1968.
We even had someone in charge of our choir robes.  I am glad that was not my job!

So, it is not surprising that so many return for our Chapel Choir Reunions.  We all share the love of music.  We all have Mary stories.  This is my story.  My words tell only a tiny bit of what I learned from Mrs. Anderson.  One thing I remember most is that she never gave up on any of us.  She would not allow anyone to say that he could not sing.  In her eyes...or should I say ears...everyone had a song to sing.  And so we meet again, to sing our songs in honor of our teacher, coach, mentor and friend, Mrs. Mary Anderson.

Here is one of the songs we sang, "Lord, Make Me and Instrument".  The words are from the Prayer of St. Francis. I wondered how the voices of our aging choir would sound...we were no longer young high school students singing.  We had all been members of the choir from between 1956-1975.  Most of us are in our 60s-70s....some older, and we had only two hours of practice to prepare six songs.  We were fortunate to have Bette Bodley Chambless, a member of the Chapel Choir from the early 60s, direct us.  I think of her as a gentle Mary Anderson.  I think we all felt Mary's spirit join us as we  lifted our voices in song.


  1. What an inspiration---Mary Anderson. There is something special about going to church and hearing a trained choir. We do not have one just a handful of ladies who sit in the choir loft and sing as the organist plays. They do their best. Choirs seen to add such joy to a church service. Thanks for including the video. Sounds beautiful.

  2. Thank you for sharing this memory. Mrs. Anderson sounds like an incredible person and teacher. I wish everyone could have a Mrs. Anderson in their life especially during their formative years.

  3. What a wonderful tribute to a special lady who inspired so many! It says a lot when so many returned for your reunion.

  4. I love that people SNUCK into the church so as not to miss choir practice. That is an inspiring leader. Loved the video!

  5. What a legacy Mrs. Anderson left! I love seeing all of the pictures of the choir through the year. And your prayer song is beautiful!