According to my mother, the only reason she ever regretted not teaching us Korean was that we could never appreciate my dad’s sermons. I grew up hearing my dad preach every Sunday, but never understanding a word. As you might imagine, Sunday mornings were a kind of mild torture for me. I would zone out through the sermon and the endless prayers, (so very many prayers!). My only relief came whenever it would be time to sing a hymn. I knew every hymn we sang, because I’d been singing them with my family my whole life.
My mother’s fondest fantasy was that we would be the Korean Von Trapps. She even went so far as to make us matching purple crushed velvet pantsuits out of entirely unsuitable heavy curtain fabric. In her fanciful vision, we would trudge together in velvet splendor through some alpine landscape singing in close harmony not Edelweiss or Do-Re-Mi, but Amazing Grace and What a Friend We Have in Jesus! The closest we ever came to fulfilling my mom’s most cherished dream was during church services. My dad never remembered to turn off his microphone, and his booming voice would fill the chapel. My mother would sing the alto part to my dad’s melody in her beautiful and powerful voice. My siblings and I would play supporting roles, singing in English while the rest of the congregation sang in Korean.
For me, my inability to speak Korean was never more painful than when my grandparents came to visit us. I felt acutely that they were bitterly disappointed that we couldn’t communicate with them. On one of their occasional visits, my grandfather took his customary guest turn at the pulpit and suddenly broke out into song in the middle of his sermon. His rich a cappella voice reverberated around the small chapel and roused me from my usual Sunday morning reverie. I knew the song he was singing, because I’d sung it with my own family hundreds of times. Higher Ground connects me to my childhood, and always makes me think of my father and grandfather.
When my friend told me she’d been doing quarantine hymn sings with her in-laws over FaceTime, I knew my parents would love this idea, and I knew Higher Ground was one of the songs we had to sing. My husband and kids learned the hymn and we made this recording for my parents:
It was such a joy to work on this song with my family. Now if only I knew how to sew! I’m sure I could rustle up some old curtains we don’t need anymore…