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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

I Sang With the Angels

Angel Statue via Pixabay
Angel Statue via Pixabay

My father liked that I was a trumpet player. He didn’t verbalize it until later when I became a professional musician; he was relatively quiet about those things. My sisters and mother usually protested. Maryjane, do you have to play that thing now? Can you go somewhere else?

Yes, I had to play it now. Yes, I could go somewhere else. I headed outside clutching my trumpet, music, and clothespins to keep the music from blowing away.

We lived in a farmhouse with a spacious barn, and I sometimes played there. There were apple trees in the backyard and stonewalls around the horse pasture. On pleasant, sunny days, I perched on the stonewall and played; the horses would briefly look up and then usually walk away. Babe, though she tried to appear unaffected, was entirely moved by John Philip Sousa. She swished her tail in a way that some may think as a sign of indifference, but I know a fan when I see one. Prince, the other horse, was visibly annoyed, threatening to push by and escape, getting the whole town involved in chasing them down.

Sometimes I’d sit under one of the apple trees, but never in the fall; there were too many bees. If the choice is between horses, cows, or sisters, the cows are the audience of choice because they are polite. Cows are curious and will meander to see what the commotion is all about; they express an interest. After they look, they, too, return to grazing. Still, they seem to be more aware of the music, unlike horses who are either indifferent or overly responsive or a family who objects.

Before getting my first trumpet, I took piano lessons for a few years. The teacher was an older Swedish woman with silver braids coiled neatly around her head. Although strict, she possessed a particular kindness and warmth. It was a relief to have some structure on the piano. Until then, I was like an untamed rosebush, promising beauty, surrounded by thorns.

My mother tried to keep it all together; she was in over her head with five daughters. I took piano lessons long enough to grasp the fundamentals and build a foundation. I played by ear and practiced every day.

Almay Photo
Almay Photo

I became the official musician of the neighborhood. On special occasions, I lined up my younger sisters and friends. I led them in a parade, me playing the trumpet and them banging away on homemade drums, proudly waving American flags. I was comfortable being in the spotlight, but only as a musician and bandleader.

At age nine, I was unstoppable. I decided to sing in a church youth choir, attending a church that my family did not belong to. I did it for the sheer pleasure of singing. This was a classic New England Congregational Church located in the neighboring town. We were one of those typical families who only attended on special occasions.

On Thursday afternoons, I had choir rehearsals, and on Sunday, I attended school and church services. I was clear about joining this church for the music; the religious aspect was parallel, and before long, it seeped in. The most significant element in this was comprehending the brilliance of the acoustics inside of the building. Most church sanctuaries lend themselves to music.

All of the threads of this rich tapestry wove an enduring pattern. It seems that in my youth, I discovered the meaning of God; God is music. When I sang, I sang with the angels. When I played my trumpet, I visualized myself with my long blond curly hair, wearing a white flowing robe with downy wings. I was an angel, a herald angel. Through my music, heaven was right here on earth.

Eventually, the church experience influenced my Christian foundation of thought. I began to live a typical God-fearing Christian life as I slipped into the world of organized religion. However, the payoff was vital and immediate. I later became a serious student of Gnostic Theology. Sacred music was the passport that pushed me into a deeper level of performance.

Through singing, I became passionate about harmonizing. I coaxed my sister Sarah and friends to sing with me whenever I could. I was constantly making music. I even harmonized with the hairdryer as I sat there with the pink plastic bubble on my head. I later discovered that I had perfect pitch. The hair dryer was in the key of “D.” Ballad of a Sandwich Girl (Memoir unpublished)

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