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My Friend from Texas

Back in 1995, a call to my phone began as many do, with an enthusiastic musician hunting for music for their next performance. In this case, the musician was a sweet sixty-something gentleman named Clarence Cantini from Galveston, Texas.

My Friend from TexasClarence and I immediately connected musically, with him tapping my opera experience as we searched for music he had heard that he felt would work well for his tenor voice. After a while, I suggested he send me a copy of some of the CD track listings that interested him so I could continue the research. Sounds like typical workday stuff, right?  But what follows is dear to me and I want to share it with you.

You see, once I was able to help Clarence find his music, he and I became pen pals of sorts. He would send me lists of music he wanted to sing and I’d find it for him. Over time, the notes he included with his lists revealed his life — his love of family and music.  He sent copies of his programs, which ranged from Michael Crawford hits to the classics. He and his wife and I began exchanging Christmas cards, and when he would call the office, he would tell others to “just tell Cecelia it’s her friend from Texas.”

In 2001 my travels took me back to my hometown of Beaumont, Texas where I sang at the Julie Rogers Theater for the Performing Arts. Imagine my surprise when after the concert Clarence and his wife Sue stopped by to congratulate me.  They had traveled more than an hour to be there. It was at this concert that they met my mother, who just loved them and also developed a close friendship.

So fast forward a few more Christmas cards to September of 2008. Hurricane season. Like everyone in the country, I watched video of the damage Hurricane Ike unleashed on Galveston. I worried about my friends. I tried to call them often, but got no answer. Worse yet, no Christmas card came that December.

Never being one to shy away from a challenge, I put Google to work! I searched repeatedly for any listing about Clarence and Sue. And, lo and behold! I found a Texas newspaper listing a special birthday celebration for Clarence, complete with an address! It was important I find them now, not only to know they were ok, but to let them know my mother, their friend, had passed away.

I’ll never forget that day I called them. They told me I was a ray of sunshine after all they had been through. They had been forced out of their home by the hurricane and were suffering from ailments that sometimes come with age. I cried a bit with relief to find they were ok. After a bit, Clarence quietly told me he had lost something very precious in the storm — his music. He didn’t know where to start to replace it. That’s when I told him not to worry. I had saved everything he ever sent me in a folder with his name on it. We went through the list, and we started our musical adventure all over again.

Since that time our connection has only deepened. I still have my “Clarence” folder, which is pink, since that would indicate it’s from The Diva’s desk, and by now most of the papers are yellowed. But I’m hanging on to this folder, looking forward to the next call from my friend from Texas.

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Cecelia Chaisson
Professional opera singer, Masters' degree in Vocal Performance from the New England Conservatory in Boston; Undergraduate degree in Voice from Lamar University in Beaumont, TX; Vocalist at Saint Francis de Sales Church in Southwest Philadelphia; Customer Service Representative in Pepper's Pennsylvania office.

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