It wasn't a request. The voice over the phone--disembodied, since neither Ray nor his wife Claire had ever met the man--asked the question baldly. Whether he was capable of contributing special music to the worship at Fair Haven Church was apparently of little or no concern.
"Mr. Roels, I'll have to take a look at my schedule," Ray said, looking up at the list of special music posted in the kitchen for easy reference. "I'll have to check with Pastor Tom about sermon topics, and maybe look through some music." He waited for a response, cradling the receiver while he pulled a pen from the drawer. Silence. Dead silence. "Mr. Roels--are you still there?"
"Certainly," the man said, as if it was idiotic to ask.
"I said I'll have to do some checking, and we'll have to look for music--"
"'The Ninety and Nine,'" Roels said.
The piece rang a bell. Ray could even picture the drawing on the opposite page of the hymnal he'd grown up with--Let Youth Praise Him, purple cover. "A-waaaay on the mountains, wild and bare;/A-waaaay from the shepherd's tender care," the whole hymn as purple as some love-rides-the-rail melodrama.
"I haven't heard that one for years," he said.
"It's de' only von I know goot," the voice said. "It's de' von I alvays zing."
"At home, you mean?"
"Ja, at home. Me and de wife are here in Arizona only for three mont's--not even: Yanuary and February and only part of Marts'. Den ve go back to the kids."
"You sing in church?" he asked.
"Vunce a year," the man said.
"Vunce a year," Ray repeated, then quickly, "I mean, once a year you sing?"
"Vunce a year, and always 'De Ninety-and-Nine.' Now 'ven will I zing?"
Never before in the years he'd served as Music Director at Fair Haven Church had he had such a request--if he could call it that: "'Ven will I zing?"
"Tell you what, Mr. Roels--I'll have to get back to you. It's good that you told me you'd only be here for a couple months, but I'll have to get you a pianist and--"
"I don't need somebody to play mit' me," he said. "I never do."
"You don't want an accompanist?"
"I zing a cappella."
Where the man had ever heard the word a cappella was beyond him. "Well, I'll remember that, but I can't give you a date right now. I'll get back to you, okay?"
"That's goot," Mr. Roels said. "The number is 555-1213, and most of the time ve be here at the trailer. Ve don't get out much. I don't like the traffic."
"Do you have a choice?" Claire said later, when the two of them sat out at the pool and watched the kids. "I mean, really, Ray--if a man wants to sing in church, can you say no? Of course you can't."
"Whales can sing," he told her.
"There are no whales in Arizona," she told him. "Besides, if there were, maybe we ought to have them too. A whale would draw a crowd."
"I got a problem here and my wife's a comedian?" he said. "I got a man who thinks he's been called by the Lord to minister to Fair Haven with a song nobody's sung since Ozzie and Harriet. What's more, he doesn't want to be accompanied. I don't even know if he can carry a tune--"
"He sings in his home church."
"Fourteen souls, maybe--how do we know?"
"Maybe he's a operatic tenor, sang in Vienna--"
"With a repertoire of one schmaltzy hymn?"
"He's a specialist," she kidded.
"Claire, would you get serious? What am I going to do?"
"Take it to the committee. Take it to the preacher," she said. "But I say let him sing. Maybe he's Placido Domingo."
"He's not that," Ray told her. "He's definitely a bass."
Tomorrow: the tryout