At this point it’s a widely known fact that my mother started the youth choir at her church at the age of 12. I have no idea what I was doing at twelve but it probably involved reading a book in a corner and not in fact creating a work of art out of other people’s voices.
The one thread I can say that my mother wove throughout our family, other than her faith, was music. She couldn’t help herself. Even my father, who married into it, had to embrace music more than he ever thought he could when it came to her. My dad has a very pleasant, solid tenor voice. Yet the only time you would hear him sing is if Rose Tennie were directing a choir. She brought music out of people, from places they didn’t even know they had.
At one point we just started calling her, “Big Musics.” It was the best description we could come up with. All that love wrapped up in notes, chords and rhythms. That was mommy.
It’s funny though, all of us kids get our love for music from her, and yet she was always surprised by it. When we would come home for Christmas, Easter or Summer vacation there’d be no time wasted before the Tennie kids would break into song in one way or another. “Oooh, I got some musical babies,” she’d exclaim.
This last Christmas vacation, we were in the living room messing with the piano and she said, “Y’all the ones that’re, ‘Big Musics,’ you passed me!”
It’s not true though, her music, her musicality, is still the thread that runs throughout. Our music is because of her.
Tonight I had to sit through my first choir practice knowing that she wasn’t at the other end of the phone if I wanted to text her about what we were singing. We did that pretty often, ever since I moved away and got a job at a different church. I’d take a picture of the latest octavo our director passed out and say, “Look what he’s picked out this time. Remember this one? Oh, this one is my jam!” She’d respond enthusiastically, as I knew she would…because my love of music comes from her.
So tonight I sang the alto line to, “He Never Failed Me Yet,” a song I’ve been humming for as long as I can remember because it blared through the radio at least once a Sunday in my house growing up. Instead of texting mom and saying, “You won’t believe what we’re singing,” I had to actually mean the words I was singing from the page. “Trust and never doubt, Jesus will surely bring you out, He never failed me yet.”