My Nun and Me

Here’s a story:

If you ever take a class in music history and wonder if Gregorian Chant will ever be of use to you …

I was on a plane in 1980 with 40 or so nuns, some of whom I had overheard in the terminal talking to a priest about the conference they had attended and their return trip to Ireland. I was seated across the aisle from one, a lovely, kind-looking woman of around 50, with thick, stunning, waist-length, metallic sterling silver hair. And the one next to her was one of those sad, bitter old prunes I was just exactly unfortunate enough to have studied under in college.

So I looked across at her amazing hair and she scowled. And I smiled a smile that said, (I hoped), “Oh hey, no, I know you’re a nun …” and she scowled again. So how best to proceed? “Say, sister, I overheard some of your colleagues discussing …” ? Sigh.

Without further thought, I picked up a magazine and started “idly” whistling the chant version of Ave Maris Stella. After the first three notes she looked across and beamed, though I gave her only a few sidelong glances as I struggled to whistle the rest of it through a smile.

ave maris

The whole rest of the flight we kept looking across, shrugging, smiling, chuckling. It was three hours of the most enjoyable conversation I’ve ever had, and neither of us spoke a word. When we got to my stop I got up and shook both her hands, both of us laughing happily, and said “Have a safe journey, Sister!” And I gave a slow nod to the other one. When I turned around to get my bag I heard the other one say “Who was that!?” And she replied simply, (the only time I heard her lovely Irish accent), “A friend.”

So yeah. If you ever need a medieval hymn to flirt with an Irish Catholic nun on an airplane, an intimate knowledge of Gregorian Chant is just the ticket! I speak from experience.



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