Flutist plays love songs to the Lord

By Steve Wideman | For The Compass | December 11, 2013

Schmeichel hopes her music at Mass brings people closer to Christ

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]NEENAH — Raising the silver flute to her lips, Mary Schmeichel feels, as she always does, the love of Jesus Christ as his image looks down from the crucifix visible high over her right shoulder.

Mary Schmeichel (Steve Wideman | For The Compass)
Mary Schmeichel (Steve Wideman | For The Compass)

“It’s the most beautiful view,” Schmeichel said of the crucifix overlooking the altar at St. Margaret Mary Church in Neenah where she regularly performs as a soloist, band member and choir accompanist.

“Playing the flute at Mass is probably my favorite way to express my connection with the Lord,” Schmeichel said. “Everything you hear coming out of that flute is my love song to the Lord. It gives me great pleasure to play. The biggest hurdle for me is wanting people to feel, through my music, the same connection I do to the Lord.”

Schmeichel began singing with the church choir when she and her husband, Art, moved to Neenah from Clintonville about 18 years ago, but her love for music was evident from the cradle.

“My mom always told me that when I was a baby I would sing myself to sleep quite a bit,” Schmeichel said.

During a second grade music aptitude test Schmeichel, who grew up in Two Rivers and graduated from Manitowoc Roncalli High School, scored 99 out of a 100 points.

“I thought it was normal for everyone to understand music. It’s always come easy to me,” said Schmeichel, who has suffered from hearing problems most of her life.

A cancer survivor, Schmeichel didn’t let the debilitating effects of the cancer treatments stop her love for music and God.

“You have to put your faith in the Lord,” Schmeichel said.

As the cancer radiation treatments caused her to lose her hair, Schmeichel covered her head with a bandana and pushed ahead with her life and music.

“It was extremely important for me to keep playing because everything else was not normal at that time in my life,” she said.

Initially, some people questioned the identity of the new flutist with the bandana, but her signature swaying with enthusiasm as she played left no doubt the musician beneath the crucifix was Mary Schmeichel.

“I was diagnosed on Good Friday. I sat in church that day with three friends who also had cancer. By the next Good Friday, I was the only one remaining. I realized at that point how short life is and how little time we have on this earth,” Schmeichel said. “I prayed through my music for each one of my friends who died. I always pray through my music. I lay it up there and say ‘Here Lord. Take it.’”

In addition to singing and playing her flute with various community groups, church-related events and private occasions such as weddings, Schmeichel performs with the Christian band “Building Permit.”

Comprised of musicians from several Catholic churches in the Fox Cities, the group plays at various parishes and Christian events including the annual Lifest in Oshkosh.

“To connect with those musicians was God-inspired and he led me down that path. Each of us came into the band in different ways, but we all love the Lord with all of our hearts,” she said. “Our band has been blessed with youth members and we are able to model our Catholic faith for those youth.”

Whether she is performing with the band, playing solo or accompanying the choir with other musicians, Schmeichel plays her heart out to Christ.

“When I think about the Blessed Sacrament and we sing that final Amen (following consecration of at Mass) I can’t play a note high enough to exult how I feel at that point,” she said. “That is the summit of Mass and everyone should be like ‘Whoa. Here we are.’ It’s definitely an amazing experience.”

Schmeichel sometimes worries that music, not the Eucharist, becomes the primary focus of people attending Mass with choir or band performances.

“People come to me and say they like my playing, but I hope it’s because the music brings them closer to Christ and the Eucharist,” Schmeichel said. “My husband has helped me realize people might have to connect with the music first before connecting with Christ, that music is the invitation to get people in church.”

Schmeichel encourages people to sing, not just listen to music during Mass.

“It doesn’t matter if you have a good voice or a bad voice. Just sing out loud to the Lord,” she said.

Schmeichel not only prays while she plays, she thinks of the impact of the songs, sometimes to the point of tears.

“During the 5 p.m. Saturday Mass following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks we sang as a closing song ‘How Can I Keep from Singing,’” Schmeichel said. “I heard the words ‘Thro’ all the tumult and the strife. I hear the music ringing. … How can I keep from singing?’ I began to tear up, but it’s hard to play the flute when you are crying or laughing. As I played I felt like God was saying to me, ‘Just keep on singing because I am  always there.’”

The closing words to the song, first published in 1868, ring true today to Schmeichel’s passion for music, in spite of roadblocks thrown in her path through life.

“Always put your faith in the Lord and keep moving forward,” Schmeichel said.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info”]Your Catholic Neighbor

Name: Mary Schmeichel

Parish: St. Margaret Mary, Neenah

Age: 47

Favorite saint: Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata

Words to live by: “Keep on keeping on.”[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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