Kate/Susan's latest blog entry prompted our pal Seraphim Gleck to ask me to tell the tale of the Caterwauling Grannies...... and so I shall.
For most of my life, my paternal grandmother went to a small Pentecostal church within walking distance of her apartment. In fact, she remained a member there, even after she moved to another county because she wanted to be buried out of that church; and, she was. At any rate, one of my clearest memories of going to church with Granny (whenever we would visit her on Sundays) was their choir.
In the Pentecostal tradition in which I grew up, there was no such thing as a choir as I know it now. The choir consisted not of the same 20 people, week in and week out. Instead, anyone who wished to join in during any given service was welcomed to go up front and sit in the choir area. There was no formal choir practice or anything like that. Now granted, most of the time, it was the same old people, but not necessarily. I might sing in the choir on Sunday morning, and skip it on Sunday night.
Anyway, at Granny's little church, the choir was almost exclusively women. So was the church, for that matter. There were men, but they did not sing tenor or bass harmony parts. They merely sang the melody, an octave or so lower. No biggie -- same as my church. But there was one big difference between our church and Granny's: we had altos. My mother was one of them, as was I in my earliest years. I only became a soprano after 9th grade and moving to mezzo-soprano in concert choir at school.
And the women in Granny's choir were ..... how shall I say this? Um..... mature! Yeah. That's it. They were "mature" women, a few men, and all singing melody. These were also more or less "country" people (although the church was in town). Any by country, I mean people with thick Southern accents, even when they sang. They were all sopranos -- meaning, they sang the melody no matter what the range was. In short, they all sounded like cats caught in a lawnmower. Shrill, high-pitched, and slightly off-key. Hmm, a lot like Celine or Mariah (sorry, K/S). Now, don't get me wrong -- these were sweet people who were always very kind to me, and I love them still. But they can't sing their way out of a paper bag.
The last time I heard the Caterwauling Grannies was at my grandmother's funeral. Granny had long had her funeral planned to a tee, right down to the music and whom she wanted to do the singing and piano playing. You guessed it, some of the caterwaulers. I knew the music. I'd known it since the 70s, and frankly, I was dreading the whole thing.
They did the first song, which if memory serves, was Squire Parsons' "Beulah Land." Oh, how I hate that song. I grew to dislike it intensely over the years, and this particular usage was no exception. At one point, my mother wished that for her own funeral. She will not be listening to the music, so that is one wish that will go unheeded. She can haunt me for all I care. Anyway, back to Granny's funeral ..... I bowed my head, and shook it. I was about to crack up laughing at the Caterwauling Grannies and yet try so hard not to cry. Or scream.
After the 2nd preacher, they got up again and did another song .... another country/Southern gospel from the 70s. At this point, I'm not laughing anymore, and not yet crying. I'm more on the lines of "Dammitall, this funeral is going on waaaaaaay too long and I want to stand up and stretch and do something. I need a liturgy. I need a funeral liturgy like I know them as a Catholic. Not this crap."
By the time they did the 3rd song, I was just numb and wanting the whole thing to be over. The Caterwauling Grannies ... um, caterwauled on. Le sigh. Was it EVER going to end?
It did, and mercifully, I haven't heard the sound for real in 11 years now. Nor do I want to hear it again, ever. They were and are sweet people, but I can't take the mewing, the rowww-rowww-rowwwww sound again. Oy vey.