Folk Group Church Music in Saigon

My doctorate is in Public Administration (the functioning of the government bureaucracy), and my masters is in Government. But my BA is in Music. I was a composer—and occasionally still am.

By age six, I knew I was born to write stories, but I struggled against my vocation. I tried various other professions. Music and foreign languages took precedence for a while, and thanks to my flare for languages (I’ve worked in seven different ones other than English), I spent my working years as a spy. Through it all, I never stopped writing. I retired as early as I could to write full time. I now have four novels and seventeen short stories in print.

But my passion for music has stayed with me. I play the piano every day and nearly always have music going on my several stereos throughout my house. As I type in my office, a Sibelius symphony plays in the background.

Throughout my life, I’ve dabbled in church music. I’ve sung in choirs and directed them, but even though I was a classically trained musician, I much preferred the church folk music to the standard hymns. So I established and ran folk groups to provide music during services. During my last tour in Vietnam, I played guitar and sang with a folk group at the Catholic church in Saigon that catered to Americans and featured mass in English.

That experience found its way into my writing. In the novel Last of the Annamese, Molly, an American nurse at the U.S. dispensary in Saigon, sings in the folk group during masses at Cité Paul-Marie. I described how moved she is by “Hear, O Lord,” one of my favorite folk hymns.

I still remember sitting in church in April 1975 while the group sang that hymn, accompanied by the sound of distant artillery as the North Vietnamese closed in on Saigon. The memory still brings tears to my eyes.

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