June 10, 2016

You Gotta Sing When the Spirit Says Sing by Sharon Espeseth

Like several other InScribers, I grew up in a family that loved music. We sang in the car, the bathtub, at church, at Bible camp,  around a campfire, and wherever the spirit--small or capital S--led us. Over the years, we sang folk music, church music, contemporary songs,  spirituals, and classical music. Our extended family sang around the piano. Sometimes we sang prayerfully and sometimes we hammed it up.

Behind closed doors, a few of us could perform tunes with the Hawaiian-guitar sound you get when you plug one nostril with a knuckle and strum the other nostril with a thumb. These joyful noises never met public scrutiny.

During our teens, we moved our electric organ to the rec room so we could play piano and organ duets. Our church youth group frequented our basement with a few guitars, more singers, and obviously more noise.

Since piano lessons were expensive, my sister Joan and I got only the basics. After that, we taught ourselves. We also learned more about music from two excellent choir directors, Hjalmr Peterson and Vic Bauman. These two gentlemen put us through the best of John W. Peterson's cantatas for Christmas and Easter.

Recalling my musical background, I often think of my sister Joan, as we were close in age and shared many memories. Joan accompanied when I sang solos and later our sisters got in on trios and even a few quartets.

Wendy, Joan, Shirley, Moi (Sharon)
Taken some years later

One opportunity Joan and I experienced together was singing in the mass choir in the Edmonton Billy Graham Crusade. Cliff Barrows, the long-time musical director for Billy Graham, led our massive choir in singing Handel's Alleluia Chorus. What an inspiration that was!

Another musical memory with Joan was going along with a Baptist youth group that travelled by raft from Dunvegan Park to the town of Peace River. A group of about twenty young people, we sailed and sang our way down the mighty river. When it came time for a bathroom break, someone would start singing "Onward, Christian Soldier." When the singing got louder, we headed for the riverbank.

During high school, I took vocal lessons for one year. For Music Festival that year, I learned a Swedish folk song, in Swedish, for my grandparents. Coached by Dad and polished by Grandpa, I sang "Ack, Varmeland" du skona," authentically, or so my adjudicator, who was familiar with Swedish, conceded. (I don't know how to type the two-dot umlaut.)

Early in my teaching career I was the default music teacher when we didn't have an official music teacher on staff. I remember pushing an institutional piano from one classroom to another. While teaching young children, I had a full repertoire of children's songs in English and French, and the tapes and records to go with them.

During one winter road trip to Victoria, our three children and their Norwegian dad, mastered a few French songs from a Charlotte Diamond tape. I could regale you all day with the pleasures and enjoyment I have had with music of several genres, but what is this all about?

St. Augustine is credited with saying, "A person who sings prays twice." That means I must be praying a lot, because I often have a song in my head. I participate in music ministry at church and I sing in choir.

For several years, our choir at St. Anne's Catholic Church has teamed up with the Barrhead United Church Choir for a Christmas cantata. Last fall members from other churches sang with us, making ours a truly ecumenical choir.

My last story is, perhaps, the best. On three separate occasions, I have been part of a small contingent of family members singing, reading, and praying with a loved one who is ready to meet his or her Lord. Each of these individuals had endured a number of year with Alzheimer's. One of these people was my sister Joan.

As if by God's call, we were there at the right time with the right songs and the right scriptures. Our much loved patients seemed to have the gift of enough clarity to understand and appreciate these spiritual moments. We too were blessed with clear voices, love, song, and laughter.

PS. My apologies for the length, errors if I left any, and no pictures. I am on my way to Manitoba early in the morning to attend a funeral, and I must get some sleep.


  1. Love this! singing is such a wonderful way to bring people together.

  2. Such an idyllic musical family! As I read your post I thought, "Now that's what I want heaven to be like!" Your privileged prayers for dear ones also reminded me of singing songs of faith and praise "with" my nephew hundreds of miles away during his final illness, and my brother and his family were singing at his side when he went to be with Jesus. A lovely time sharing these experiences with you Sharon. :)

    1. Thank you, Tracy, and Ramona, for your comments. We weren't exactly the Von Trapp Family Singers from Sound of Music, but we had lots of fun, and music really did bring us together. It's wonderful, Ramona, that you can relate this to your own experiences singing for or with people, when it is time to say, Good-bye--or literally, God-be-with-ye till we meet again.

  3. Oh Sharon, what a lovely musical legacy. I sang in that mass choir when Billy Graham was in Edmonton too!

  4. How fabulous, Brenda, to hear that you were in that choir too, or maybe it was another crusade. I'm talking about a long time ago. I'm not sure what year this was, so I tried to do some research about years he was in Edmonton. I can't figure it out, but Joan and I were there.


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