Offering up the music of the Angels

Esme Gray

Esme Gray, the organist for Wynnum’s Guardian Angels Church for almost 60 years, still remembers the advice of Mercy Sister Mary Estelle who ran the choir for many years, writes Paul Dobbyn.

- By Paul Dobbyn for The Catholic Leader

'Whenever things got tough, Sr Mary Estelle would simply say: “Offer it up”,' the 81-year-old stalwart of the bayside community’s musical life said.

Esme has had cause to remember these words on several occasions.

'I’ll never forget when all the beautiful Mozart and Beethoven Masses sung in Latin disappeared,' she said. 'That was after Vatican II (Second Vatican Council).'

Esme, traumatised by this loss, said to Sr Mary Estelle who used to rehearse the choir every Thursday night for Sunday Mass: ‘How we are going to put up with this change?’

‘“Offer it up”, was her only comment,’ said Esme, with a smile.

The advice came in handy during dark times at the end of 2009. Esme was diagnosed with colon cancer and her weight dropped and with it her energy.

Not only was Esme playing the organ at Guardian Angels’ every Sunday, but she was also responsible for rehearsing and conducting the Wynnum Choral Society – an organisation with which she had been involved in various capacities for nearly 50 years. She was also involved in other community groups including Meals on Wheels.

Many thought she would have to step down from these responsibilities. But this was an underestimation. ‘I had a dear old English friend who used to say: “Why can’t people just get on with it?’”

Within four weeks of her operation, she was back playing the organ.

Esme’s love of music had been evident at an early age. At St Benedict’s, East Brisbane, she was conducting a timpani band at seven. Around 1955, she offered her services to the Guardian Angels’ choir. ‘This was when I met Sr Mary Estelle and she sent me straight to work,’ she said.

Asked what has kept her turning up faithfully to play organ up in the church’s choir loft all these years, she quickly makes it clear that it’s not a chore. ‘When the priest goes to thank me I say: “Don’t thank me… it’s my privilege to do this”,’ she said.

 ‘As dear old Sister Mary Estelle used to say: “Remember – to sing is to pray twice”.’

Read full article: Angel’s musical guide (The Catholic Leader)

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