But the singer line runs primarily through my mom. Her father, Leonard Kranendonk, is the man standing on the right in this photo. From him, my mother and my uncle (on the left) inherited their voices; from my mother, my sister and I inherited ours.
Mom was a coloratura soprano of astonishing range. She now sings tenor with her choir. My Uncle Bob, a true musician-singer, has a rich smokey baritone voice, and my sister's is a contralto as sweetly dark as buckwheat honey. But we did not all become professional vocalists; only my grandfather, my uncle, and I followed that path.
My grandad was for many years the lead baritone of Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians, an internationally-renowned glee club that started in the late 1930s. My uncle also sang with them for a time. You may not have heard of them, but there would be no Glee TV show without them (and possibly no Robert Shaw Chorale, since that's where Shaw got his start). Waring had a weekly radio and then television show, and they are considered, I learned last year, to have been the original Show Choir. English was my grandfather's second language (he emigrated from The Netherlands), but his own perfectionism and Waring's Tone Syllables, a diction technique, resulted in what you will hear on this opening track from his only solo album.
My grandfather and I did not agree on the role of improvisation, but I think he was proud of me, and I feel him with me every time I sing in church. And because he sang sunrise Easter services on a mountaintop, and blessings at the Thanksgiving table, I reckoned I could, too. Singing anytime, anywhere, without accompaniment was normal.
It's autumn in upstate NY. As winds tug at the leaves of gold and
flame, the trees simply let go, and drop them (you want
lessons in attachment and non-attachment? Look to the deciduous trees). It's getting colder. Both my grandparents lived into the 21st century, and I lost them only
11 years ago, my grandmother Elsie (who sang alto) in October 2011, my
grandfather the following spring. I feel them, and feel the pull of the old songs that are my my most valuable inheritance, and the voices that carried them. All these years later, I'm the one singing loudly in church. But really, whom then shall I fear, when I never sing alone?