A few years back I had the honor of being part of Progressa, a Guatemalan Friends teaching group. Our mission was to provide one-on-one English tutorials to university age young people who spoke little or no English. Most of the students were from educationally underserved villages whose first language was a local dialect, with Spanish being a second, or even third, tongue. Based in the magical old capital city of Antigua, Guatemala, we had endless opportunities for exploration after intense morning and afternoon classes.
One particular day in early December, a motley group of 10 or 12 teachers and students decided to walk to one of the many colonial church ruins. My tutee during that time was a 19 year old first-year law student named David. He proved himself to be a quick learner, a stellar soccer player, and a great companion for our afternoon excursions.
Upon arrival at the ruins our group hovered about, exploring various nooks and crannies, rooms for prayer and contemplation, dormitories, etc. We descended a stone staircase to reach a chamber with a rounded ceiling and astounding acoustics. As if directed to do so, we gathered in a circle, each testing his/her own personal sounds apprehensively in that 16th century sanctuary. With no warning whatsoever, a clear, rich, resonant, and spine-tingling baritone voice filled the space with a Latin rendition of Ave Maria.
My jaw dropped. Where did this young man from rural Guatemala learn to sing like an angel? Ave Maria? Words cannot adequately describe the sense of awe, gratitude, Light, and Presence that hushed all other thinking and movement while we listened to the music. To me, it was beauty defined through sound. My heart swelled and I wanted to stop that moment in time, to savor and hold it, make it last, preserve it by depositing it in my recording memory bank. Its poignancy, depth and lucidity brought me to tears, as did the seeming perfection of being there at that time, with those people, astounded by the fact that the bearer of such musical brilliance was none other than my student, David.
A round of joyful applause from the bystanders above punctuated the song’s ending, followed by continued singing among our beaming group, in three and four part harmonies, as we explored and discovered musical repertoire commonalities. David melted back into the larger group, but the magic continued—not of the same essence—but lovely, powerful, and joyous all the same. I felt like a child at a surprise party hosted by God himself, where everyone receives gifts – a full uplifted heart and a sense of wonderment over hidden treasures revealed.