Sometimes, when you live in Michigan, people from out of state ask you, “Why?”
This is a story that answers that question.
I was feeling a little blue this past week. Life’s worries. The usual stuff. I had a family dinner commitment, it was out in Ann Arbor, and though I was tired and didn’t feel like making the trip, the plans already were made.
We met at the Cottage Inn, a large pizza restaurant brimming with college kids. This was in the heart of the University of Michigan, where the semester was heading toward finals. Lots of late evening pepperoni.
We sat at a large table, a bunch of us, the uncles and aunts, nephews, niece, friends, and, near the end of the meal, a white-haired gentleman came over and introduced himself. He said he was the university adviser to the Men’s Glee Club, his name was Carl Smith, and he wanted to know if we had a request.
“Yes. Anything you’d like to hear?”
“You mean a song?”
Now I have been to restaurants where they strum guitars, where they sing opera, where a violinist twirls his bow while couples sip wine.
I have never been to a place that had a glee club.
Surround sound in a pizzeria …
“What are our choices?” I asked.
Carl rattled off a bunch of unfamiliar names, “Varsity,” “Goddess of the Inland Seas.” I shrugged. I am not generally up on glee club repertoire.
“You pick,” I said.
He smiled and said he would. Then he disappeared to the back. We waited around our table, not sure what we had gotten ourselves into.
Suddenly, a small army of young men came walking toward us. They lined the stairs to the second level, they stood along the balcony, they filled the spaces between the tables around us. They were every kind of college male – from the sweat-shirted, unshowered, matted-hair mold to the neatly coiffed, bespectacled version.
In front of them was a gentleman in a gray sport coat, their director, Eugene Rogers. He made a hand motion.
And voices rose.
This is our humble prayer.
Dear Father, bless America,
Oh keep her strong and good.
May her brave songs fly ’round the world
on wings of brotherhood.
The voices were strong, lovely, harmonious, sincere, they filled the restaurant until everyone in the place was listening in stunned silence.
Inspire our songs of loyalty,
And may thy blessing be
Dear Michigan, our university.
And the night wasn’t over …
When they finished, we rose in applause. The singing kids (I call them kids, they tower over me) were smiling. They hiked their backpacks, readjusted their sweat shirts and scattered.
I later learned this glee club dates to 1859 and is considered one of the best in the country. On Thursday nights it practices, and afterward, it gathers for pizza at the Cottage Inn.
Apparently, the men do a little post-rehearsal singing as well.
We sat in that restaurant feeling uplifted by the impromptu performance. It truly was beautiful singing – and we hadn’t even paid the check yet.
Later, we collected in a dessert place for make-your-own frozen yogurt, and as we sat down, we noticed a group of female college students a few tables over, all wearing the same blue T-shirts.
And suddenly, they broke into a rousing rendition of “Lean On Me,” the Bill Withers classic. They clapped and sang.
Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend,
I’ll help you carry on.
When they finished, we applauded again. Either we were incredibly lucky, or someone taped a sign to our backs that read, “Perform for these people!”
But I can’t describe the feeling of hearing youthful singing when you’re down, and how inspiring the sound of young, uninhibited voices can be. They sound like… hope.
And this, out-of-staters, is what can happen when you live in Michigan. Sometimes, when you’re feeling blue, all you need is a little maize.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).