By Maureen Kalbus
Sheltering at home as California’s Covid Restrictions peter out, I am looking forward to seeing people’s smiles again, singing in church, and relishing the mainly musical service on Sunday. During the Coronavirus pandemic, the church community has been buoyed by the range of musical talents our choir members and musicians have shared. Under the expert leadership of Daniel Canosa, and with the gifted technical talents of Tom McAfee and Martin Stevenson, we have appreciated a wide variety of musical genres. Natsuko Muryama’s organ playing and piano accompaniment have been stirring and inspiring. Sunday’s music will be salve for the soul.
Music has been a salient backdrop in my life. My father, Ernest Robinson, was well known in Ireland for his glorious bass baritone singing voice. Like melting chocolate slipping over the tongue, my Dad’s voice was delicious in its texture, flavor and complexity. It was deep and resonant, a soothing balm on the ears. There was none like him.
He had begun singing as a youngster, coming home from church each Sunday, and singing hymns that had been sung, for his Dad who was ill in bed. Music was in his veins. He would sit down at a piano or organ and play any tune requested, without a sheet of music. His voice was trained by a voice specialist who lived across Belfast. To save tram money, and to help ihis breathing, Dad would walk the miles home, holding his breath for increasing numbers of strides. On stage, he could hold a note for a lifetime. For decades, he entranced audiences at concerts and functions, on radio and television. The only time he wasn’t appreciated was when he sang “Bless This House” in Belfast’s Crumlin Road Prison!
My Dad was a great storyteller, with a unique turn of phrase. Stories from his youth tripped off his tongue. I never tired of hearing them. Like the time he was asked by his Mum to look after his baby sister, so he put her in a box and used her as a goal post for the game of soccer he wanted to play with his school friends. Or the time he sang for the wee boy in front of him in the choir, while the boy, who couldn’t sing in tune, mouthed the words. The teacher wasn’t fooled, and whacked my Dad. Stories of his family’s escapades during World War II were legendary. One night German bombers mistook Belfast for the North of England and rained bombs on the sleeping city. Dad, his mother and sister didn’t have time to reach the street’s air raid shelter before the blitz. They sat one in front of the other on the stairs. The grandfather clock at the top of the stairs crashed down, nudging my aunt’s back. A lucky escape. Dad’s formal dinner suit, which had been hanging on one hanger in his bedroom wardrobe, ended up being blasted in different directions, with his jacket ending up in the front garden and his trousers in the back! Both were still wearable!!
Dad was an avid golfer, playing many days a week, and was the life of the Golf Club, organizing wonderful social events, and golf competitions.
Dad would have given you the shirt off his back: he was generous and kind to family, friends and strangers. In later years, his patience with roses and tomatoes ensured prolific crops, and heart tickling moments remind me of us working together in the garden, his voice advising me how to plant and fertilise new roses, when he could no longer kneel. He would give sage advice: “Let the hare sit,” he would say if anyone was in a dilemma. “Don’t start anything you can’t finish,” he would suggest if any of us debated taking on another challenge. Throughout my life he would tell me to “Slow down!” because he always believed I took on too much, and was always running from one activity to another. This past Covid year, at long last, I’ve listened to him! Not only as Father’s Day approaches, but any day, I think of Dad and hear his voice.
The most important father figure in the Bible is God the Father. His love, kindness, patience, wisdom, protectiveness, understanding, faithfulness and forgiveness are all above any human understanding. God is constant: He never changes; we can depend on Him. Our heavenly Father is an example for earthly fathers to emulate.
Several fathers throughout the Bible, set the example of what is wise or not wise to do in the challenging role of fatherhood:
Adam was the first human father. From Adam we learn that God is looking for fathers who freely choose to obey Him; fathers with integrity live in the knowledge that nothing is hidden from God’s sight; instead of blaming others, godly fathers take responsibility for their own failures and shortcomings. Gen. 2-5
From Noah we learn that God promises to bless and protect those who faithfully follow and obey him; obedience is not a sprint but a marathon; even the most faithful fathers have weaknesses. Gen. 6-10
Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, was a leader of tremendous faith.He showed us that God wants to use us, in spite of our shortcomings: He will rescue and support us through our foolish mistakes; genuine faith pleases God; God’s purposes and plans are revealed in phases over a lifetime. Gen. 11 v 27-25 v 18
Jacob was a schemer, and tried to work his own way, instead of trusting God. However, he fathered twelve sons who headed the Twelve Tribes of Israel. We learn from Jacob that God wants us to trust Him; fighting against God is a losing battle; God works with our mistakes and bad decisions; God’s plans can never be undone.Gen. 25 v 24-49
David’s story was one of struggle. He sinned greatly, but repented and was forgiven. We are shown that honest self-examination is necessary to recognize our own sins; God wants our whole hearts; we cannot hide our sins from God; sins have consequences; God is always there for us.1 Sam. 16 - 2 Sam. v 1-24; Kings 2 v 1-10
Joseph, the father of Jesus, taught him carpentry. He was a righteous man, with quiet strength, honesty and kindness, who showed us that God honors men of integrity, and rewards them with His trust; mercy always wins; obedience may result in humiliation and disgrace before men, but close friendship with God. Matt. 1-2
“Honor your father and your mother…” Ex. 20 v 12
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Josh. 1 v 9
“Start children off the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it.” Prov. 22 v 6
With Fathers’ Day and our choir’s presentation this weekend, we all will have special memories and moments evoked. Musically, performances that have stood out for me over the years, are hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing as one, in the Temple in Salt Lake City; soaking in my favorite operatic duet from “The Pearl Fishers” in The Sydney Opera House; singing carols with Ralph in London’s Royal Albert Hall, and talking afterwards with John Rutter; breathing in the glorious music during our Wedding Service in Bel Air Presbyterian Church; sharing the experience of hearing Handel’s “Messiah” in the acoustically perfect Waterfront Hall in Belfast, with my parents.
What are some of your musical memories?
Among my favorite hymns are:
“Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
there is no shadow of turning with thee.
Thou changeth not; Thy compassions they fail not.
As thou has been thou forever will be.
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning, new mercies I see.
All I have needed thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!”
“O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
consider all the worlds thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God the thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art!”
Enjoy your memories, and the delights of the weekend and weeks ahead. I hope to see you soon, in person.
Warmest wishes, with a mask-free smile,