The piano player at my parish died last week. Her name was Maralyn. We barely knew each other. I didn’t even know her last name. But I will miss Maralyn every Sunday, probably until the day I die.
Let me explain.
Once my children were old enough to graduate from the crying room, euphemistically named “The Chapel of Peace” at my church, I decided we needed to get more involved in the liturgy. My husband comes from a family of singers (he even sang the national anthem for 10,000 people at a local sporting event) and my oldest child had clearly gotten the Taylor gift of song, so I pushed for the whole family to join the choir. We could never make it to practice during the week because of sports, but every Sunday the Taylor family was there in our best outfits to add our voices to the amateur choir.
Maralyn was there as well. At first, I didn’t notice how beautifully she played. Slowly, I began to notice her professionalism. She changed keys on the fly so we wouldn’t have to strain to hit high notes. She added beautiful embellishments whenever it moved her. She was always there to make us sound better. And boy did our rag-tag group of screechy, mostly tone-deaf volunteers need the help!
When one of our cantors retired and asked me to take her place, I reluctantly accepted the challenge. It was my husband and his side that sang, not me. I was a band geek. At nearly 40, I was singing solo in front people for the first time in my life.
Maralyn was there. She coached. She encouraged. She made me sound so much better, filling in when I faltered.
She didn’t play with me. She played for me; the true distinction between an accompanist and just any old piano player.
Even after a couple of years, I still get really nervous. As I sing those awkwardly melodic psalms, I feel like I want to throw up all over that lectern. Sometimes, it was only the knowledge that Maralyn was behind the keys that kept me from curling up into a fetal position right there before the altar.
When I became a cantor, Maralyn had already been battling cancer for a while. Last year at Christmas we thought it was the end, but through the grace of God, Maralyn rallied. For the past year, every Sunday, I gave God great thanks that Maralyn was still with us. But every week, I noticed her stomach was more distended, her gait more tentative, her pallor more apparent.
And yet, she came. She played for us. She played for me. I bet most of the congregation had no idea what a struggle it was for her to be there.
Last week Maralyn joined her Savior in heaven. At her funeral, I learned she was a mother of 11 children. She aspired to be a concert pianist and even had a short gig with her sisters on the nationally-syndicated Fred Waring show when she was just a teenager. She quit because her father thought New York was no place for teenage girls.
As we celebrated Maralyn’s new life in heaven, I listened to her son and sister sing with a professionalism that quite possibly had never been in our sanctuary before. I realized that this was the level of talent that surrounded Maralyn in her personal life. I imagine it could have been torture for her to play with our lowly church choir.
But it wasn’t. Not for Maralyn. In the funeral program, there was a beautiful quote. She said that playing with us was “a deeply satisfying and joyful experience” and “it was a joy and privilege to play music at the church because it allowed me to share with everyone this gift from God that was a great healing presence in my life.”
I am positive our parish really had no idea what we had when Maralyn was alive. We sure do feel her loss now. I began to wonder how many gems like Maralyn that share their talents in the liturgy are overlooked.
Do you have an outstanding musician in your parish that enhances the Mass with their talent? Is there someone who brings the scriptures to life when they read?
If so, please thank them for all they do to elevate the Mass the next time you see them. You never know. Next Sunday, they might not be there.
Eternal rest, grant unto Maralyn, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Rebecca Taylor blogs at Mary Meets Dolly