By definition, “soprano” is the highest singing voice in women and boys. Sopranos are often the ones who sing the melody (the leading part in a harmonic composition).

Ms. Sparks, one of my favorite senior citizens when I was a kid, considered herself a soprano in the choir at my mom’s church. The church had a choir and a chorus. Members of the chorus had to audition, but no auditions were required for the choir.

The choir sat in a loft on the same side of the church that my mom, my sister and I sat, so we had a close-up view of the choir members when they sang. After opening prayers and readings from the Bible, the choir and the chorus sang a song, the choir singing first.

The organist played an introduction, and the choir rose. Ms. Sparks swayed and sang until the song required the sopranos to hit high notes. At that point, Ms. Sparks stopped singing but continued to sway and nod her head in time to the music.

When the sopranos came back down to a range that Ms. Sparks could sing, she joined in again.

My mom once asked Ms. Sparks why she did not sing alto, which was probably within her range. Ms. Sparks, who was always hoarse, just laughed and replied, “I just love to sing, even though I know I don’t have a good voice. I know the tunes to the songs, and since I can’t harmonize as I would have to do as an alto, I have to sing soprano.”

I just loved Ms. Sparks. Her joy in singing was a pleasure to behold. She also offered us kids an interesting time in church, as we made a contest out of who would be the first to know when Ms. Sparks would have to stop singing.

The Poet and His Song

A song is but a little thing,

And yet what joy it is to sing!

… There are no ears to hear my lays, No lips to life a word of praise;

But still, with faith unfaltering,

I live and laugh and love and sing.

What matter yon unheeding throng?

They cannot fell my spirit’s spell,

Since life is sweet and love is long,

I sing my song, and all is well.

— Paul Laurence Dunbar, African-American poet, 1892-1906 (excerpt)

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...