Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I can hardly believe it myself: I’m going to be rocking to American gospel music with an Italian choir

Joyful Angels in concert in Lucca Sunday, February 22.

Just like that, as of last night, we are members of an Italian choir that sings American gospel songs—an interesting, pleasant and challenging experience for both of us, because we still have a hard time understanding the directions of the choir leader. It is especially strange for me, though, because in my 62 years of life, I have never been in any kind of choir. However, we came here to learn Italian and become involved in the community, so this certainly fits the bill.

This adventure began Sunday evening, when we attended a free concert of the Joyful Angels in a small Baroque-style church in Lucca. The choir sung a few older tunes such as “Amazing Grace” and “Lord, I Want to be a Christian,” and also some more recent songs, including “Shout to the Lord” and “Open the Eyes of My Heart.” All words were in English, even though the crowd was probably close to 100 percent Italian. We went up afterward to express our enjoyment, and somehow we ended up being welcomed to participate with the choir at its next practice.

Lucy jumped on the idea enthusiastically, as she enjoys singing and already participates with the musicians leading worship in our Gig Harbor church. I initially declined, saying, “Non canto bene.” I don’t sing well. However, as I thought it over, I realized I already knew most of the songs, and I knew how to pronounce the words better than the rest of the choir. Some subtle arm-twisting from Lucy also encouraged me to reconsider. When we arrived at the practice and found that no audition would be required, that pushed me over the edge, and I crowded onstage with the rest of the group.

In true Italian style, the practice was scheduled to begin at 9 p.m., usually well past the ending time of an average community choir practice in America. And when we found our way to the middle school in Ponte a Moriano at around 8:55, we still had to wait outside until about 9:10 with a handful of other “early” arrivals for one of the members with a key to come and unlock the door. After a little more milling around and chatting inside, the practice finally began at 9:25. I found myself singing next to another first-timer, Rossano, and Mauro, a veteran who helped us novices by showing us which lines the tenors were responsible to sing. Lucy sang with the contraltos and says everyone around her was very helpful and encouraging.

We practiced some of the pieces that we had heard at the concert, and then the group worked on Chris Tomlin’s “Forever,” a song new to the choir but familiar to Lucy and me. We felt useful when we were able to help some of the people around us with the pronunciation of words. We made it through halfway, with a nice balance of discipline and joking around, before Monica, the director, called it quits at around 11, and we feasted on some cheesecake that one of the members had brought.
Lucy shares a few words after rehearsal with our choir director.
We have never seen cheesecake in Italy before, other than ones that Lucy sometimes makes with ingredients she brings from the States. I asked what the Italian name for this delicious dolce was. It’s called cheesecake. I guess that makes sense, because we don’t give English names to pizza, ravioli, cannoli and other Italian dishes.

We found it interesting that one of the songs the group features is “My Guy,” a song popularized in 1964 by Mary Wells. However, the group uses the version from the movie Sister Act, starring Whoopie Goldberg, in which the word guy is changed to God. I learned while eating cheesecake that another song from the movie will soon be added to our repertoire: “I Will Follow Him.” Little Peggy March made this song a hit in 1963. I’m not sure if the Italian musicians realize that these are actually classic rock and roll songs adapted into gospel songs solely for the movie, but I don’t care. My favorite music of all time is 1960s rock, and next on my list is Christian music from the mid-70s to around 2010, so Joyful Angels is a perfect fit for me.


  1. That's awesome!!!! What a fun experience.

  2. I love this! What a blessing for you guys and what a blessing you are to the group!


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