May 2008
Billie Silvey
Track In My
Some people spend a lot of time listening to music.  I spend a lot of
time singing (particularly in the shower and while I’m driving).  I
also listen to the sound track in my mind.  My mental sound track
contains a great many songs—some classical, some jazz, some
songs from Broadway musicals and a lot of popular music by the
Beatles and earlier artists.

Some of these songs are about music.  I think of Julie Andrews on a
mountaintop, arms outstretched, singing, “The hills are alive. . . ,â
€� and later in the movie, “Doe, a deer, a female deer. . . .â€�  
Today, because I have a two-year-old granddaughter, it’s
kittens bouncing on a keyboard singing about “practicing our
scales and our arpeggios.â€�  But a major part of my sound track
is the religious music I grew up with and have sung almost every
week since.

The first song leader I remember in my small-town Texas church
was Mr. Merryman, an American Indian with a sagging face and a
hearing aid that sometimes accompanied him.  He’d set the
pitch by singing a few scales, “do, mi, sol, do, sol, mi do, �
but sometimes we’d have to start over if it was too high for the
sopranos and tenors or too low for the altos and basses.   He used
to walk to church with his wife following three steps behind.  I
remember his leading “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks.â€�  
Their oldest daughter, Maude Bowe, taught me to sing alto (Iâ
€™m really a second soprano, but I didn’t know that until I
was in college).

Our first hymnal had a light blue cover.  I can’t recall the name
of the book, but a song I loved, “Day Is Dying in the West,�
was near the front of it.  Later, we got “Great Songs of the
Church,â€� with a darker blue binding.  It had a new song, â
€œHow Great Thou Art“ pasted in the inside cover and all the
verses of “Master, the Tempest Is Raging.�

Most of my growing-up life, my father led singing.  He used first a
tuning fork and then a pitchpipe, so we didn’t start songs over
any more.  I remember his marking time, first with his hand, then
with his whole body, as he slowly rocked back on the heels of his
cowboy boots, then forward onto the balls of his feet.  I also
remember his mischievous glee in leading “Up from the Grave
He Arose� on Easter Sunday and “Joy to the World’ at
Christmastime.  (If you didn’t grow up in Churches of Christ,
you won’t get the joke!)

We were a singing family.  We sang at home; we sang in the car;
but mostly, we sang as we put out the weekly newspaper my
parents owned.  We sang harmony—four-part on church songs,
improvised on others.  My mother and my sister Barbara sang the
melody, I sang alto, and daddy alternated between tenor and bass.

When I was in college, I remember singing our minister Carl Spainâ
€™s favorite song, “Just As I Am,â€� at the Hillcrest Church in
Abilene.  After we moved to Los Angeles, I learned “Where
Cross the Crowded Ways of Life,� a fitting anthem to my new
city.  When Frank was on an aircraft carrier off Vietnam, â
€œPeace, Perfect Peaceâ€� never failed to bring me to tears,
especially the verse about “loved ones far away.  In Jesus’
keeping we are safe and they.â€�  And there was “The Sands
of Time,� which was sung at both my parents’ funerals, and
I hope will be sung at mine.  I still can’t sing “glory, glory
dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land� without a catch in my throat.

At the Vermont Avenue church, it was tall gangly Doyle Barnes
who leaned across the pulpit to lead the hymns, including â
€œAmazing Grace.â€�  Later came the pure rapture of my
husband Frank’s leading and my feeling almost as though we
were the only people there.  Then singing as I walked around
bouncing our babies, first Kathy and then Robert, in time to the

Now I sing with friend and fellow writer Dean Shaw, who leads
hymns like “There’s a Stirring Deep Within Me� and
spirituals like “Amenâ€� and “Go Tell It on the Mountainâ
€� at Culver Palms.  At first we used the big, heavy tan “Songs
of Faith and Praise,� but now we mostly sing hymns projected
on a screen.  One advantage is that you can watch the song leader
and still read the words.  Also, you can sing out better when you
aren’t looking down into your hymnal.  But the notes are not
projected, which makes it harder to learn the alto on new songs.

I have always enjoyed the a cappella (unaccompanied singing)
tradition of our church.  To my mind, singing is the great leveler.  
You don’t have to have take expensive lessons or own an
instrument to sing.  You don’t even have to have a good voice.  
One of my professors in college couldn’t carry a tune, but he
sang out strongly with an expression of pure ecstasy on his face.  
After all, church singing isn’t for entertainment.  It’s to
praise God, and praise comes from the heart, not the diaphragm.

A singing church doesn’t need an expensive organ, either--or
even a building.  You can sing anywhere you happen to be.  Some
of my best memories are singing with other Christians around a
campfire at the Yosemite Family Encampment, in the gym at the
Pepperdine Lectures, or at the Black-and-White Women’s
Retreat at Lake Arrowhead.

I enjoy being able to sing on my way to work and as I clean house.  
My heart can sing without a sound even in a crowd as I praise God
and run through the sound track in my mind.