When Words Fail, Music Speaks

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tonight, in the span of about three hours, graduation started to feel real for me.

The first round of goodbyes came with the last of our standard Wednesday practices in Founders Chapel Choir (FCC).  Once finals are over, we'll still meet several times to practice for the Baccalaureate Mass on May 23rd, but tonight brought the last of what has been my favorite part of every week at USD: my sanctuary in the middle of stress and midterms and finals, my safe haven on one of those notorious bad days on which it feels like the whole universe is against me.  Music truly has uplifting and healing powers, and says so much more than mere words ever could.  But it's the people you're singing with who really make the song.  

I wrote a special farewell to FCC, which I read (and may have cried a little bit) aloud tonight at the little dinner party/open mic night we fondly call "Sing For Your Supper."  I'm sharing it below for the members of the choir who couldn't make it this evening, for the alumni who shaped my experience (and that of countless others) before they graduated, and for future members who might never read it, but would know, if they did, of the amazing community they will find in this purehearted, generous, loving group of people.

And those who have absolutely no affiliation with Founders Chapel Choir at USD are still welcome to read this, if you'd like to know about the people who've filled my heart to the brim over the past four years.


"When words fail, music speaks."  I’m struck by the truth of this statement now, as I struggle to find words that could possibly represent the community we’ve built in song during my time at USD.  At the risk of sounding like my mother, who can’t believe that it’s already time for me to graduate from college in two and a half weeks, I will say that it really does feel like it was just yesterday that I got a letter from one Annette Welsh, just before I was getting ready to come here, imploring me to join Founders Chapel Choir.  I remember that it mentioned the informational meetings after the first Masses of the school year, and it closed with a line that sounded something like this: 'The most important things to bring are a favorite piece of music, and your instrument!  Just kidding!  The most important thing to bring is yourself!'  

I think that request is at the very heart of what makes FCC… well, FCC.  I came to that first info meeting, sat on the (pre-remodel) couch in Annette’s office with Polly and Heleen, joined then-senior Tracy's Von Trapp inspired number at my first Sing For Your Supper, auditioned for cantor in my first semester, and came to rehearsals, Masses, and socials, diligently.  It could, and maybe should, have been overwhelming for a freshman to throw herself so wholeheartedly into a campus organization that quickly.  But it wasn’t.  It wasn’t because, in all of those things, I never had to bring, or be, anything other than myself. 

That’s what’s so beautiful about FCC.  This group sees the very best of what you have to offer, and not only appreciates, but needs, the gifts that only you can give.  We are better and stronger because of what each of you alone can provide to build our little family.  If any one of us were missing, FCC would be on what Annette likes to call “the right street,” but we would not be at the right house.  And ours is a house where all are welcome.

Can I find words to express how my heart lifted when I was welcomed so vigorously by a group of upperclassmen during my freshman year?  Can words possibly explain what it’s like to watch patients at the psychiatric hospital, who’ve forgotten how to smile, join us, uninhibited and joyful, in the singing of their favorite Christmas carols?  Are there words that can respond to the young man, not much older than any of us, at the Wounded Warrior luncheon we sang at my freshman year who said, “Thank you for the beautiful music.  You remind me of my choir back home.”?  Or words that can translate what happens in my heart when I hear our voices reverberating off the walls in Founders to wrap each of us securely in mellifluous, prayerful, peaceful song?  When we know, truly, we’re not alone?  Or words for those moments when we’re lost in laughter and perfect, indescribable happiness (which often happens during the ordinary moments we’re supposed to be turning to a new song at practice)?

There aren’t, really.  Except maybe just one word:  Love.  This is a group that loves each and every one of its members for exactly who they are, for exactly who you are, and in spite of everything you aren’t, or might wish that you could be.  This is a group that continues to teach me what love looks like, in all of the ways I mentioned just now, and in so many others I can’t even begin to name.  And for that, I thank you.

As my senior year draws to a close, and I reminisce sentimentally on my time here at USD, I’m realizing that the majority of my most treasured memories have happened with the group of people seated in this room before me now.  I know a lot of seniors who have created “bucket lists” for their final weeks here, of hikes they want to take, or brunch spots they’d like to try, or San Diego landmarks they feel they absolutely have to visit before they graduate.  I think this comes from a small place of panic, and the conviction that making a quantifiable list of items to be crossed off will make them feel that they’ve made the most of every moment here.  I get this, and I’ve got a couple of things I’d still like to do, too.  

But as graduation approaches, I’m more content than anxious.  I’m content because I know I’ve filled my days with the most important and valued thing of all, and that’s love.  I have loved each and every one of you, and been loved unconditionally in return.  It is that love that I will cradle in my heart and carry with me always, like a beloved photo album I’ll place on a special shelf of memories, to be taken down, flipped through, and smiled at often.  And I know that years from now, when people ask me what I cherished the most about my undergrad experience, the first thing I will tell them about is FCC.

Thank you for making my years at USD so wonderful, Founders Chapel Choir.  You make my heart so unbelievably happy.
With so much love,


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