St. Joseph’s piano man

At 102, Angelo Miceli stays attune to Norris parish’s music liturgy with upbeat song selections

By Dan McWilliams

Family and friends are the keys to a long life, according to 102-year-old Angelo Miceli of St. Joseph Parish in Norris.

Mr. Miceli, who plays piano at first Sunday Masses at St. Joseph, turned 102 on Dec. 24.

“I was born Christmas Eve in 1913, so that’s 102 years old,” he said from his Norris home in between January snowstorms. “Plus a month,” he added with a laugh.

His key to longevity is more of a blessing than a secret, he said.

“Although I’m careful of following proper rules of nutrition, I’m also careful to recognize the necessity of maintaining contact with family and friends, because we all need that kind of nourishment: nourishment of the mind,” he said. “Nourishment of the body is OK with good food and drink, but for nourishment of the mind, we need others to do that. So I recognize that necessity, and I’m careful to nourish that insight.”

Mr. Miceli’s family literally surrounds him in his Anderson County town.

“I have three daughters living in Norris,” he said. “One lives on one side of me; one lives on the other side of me; another one lives about 2 miles from here—I am royally pampered, and I don’t have enough imagination to complain. I have a son here, too — he lives six-tenths of a mile from here. I have 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.”

Mr. Miceli has been a pianist at St. Joseph for nearly 40 years and served in the same role at St. Jude Church in Helenwood for a “couple of decades.” His Norris duties began following his retirement from Uniroyal International, where he worked as a director of research in Detroit and Fort Wayne, Ind.

“At Norris I started way back in 1977 when we first moved here because they had no music at that time, no piano either. They had a reed organ. It’s like a huge mouth organ is what it amounted to. A reed organ, I couldn’t believe it.

“We bought a piano for the church at that time, and on and off I have helped at St. Joe’s during that time. Within the last decade, others have taken over the responsibility for St. Joe’s. But I had retained responsibility for St. Jude, because there was no one else there.”

St. Joseph parochial administrator Father Julius Abuh enjoys having Mr. Miceli in his parish.

“How can you not treasure this 102-year-old renaissance man, Angelo Miceli, this valued icon not only of our parish here at St. Joseph but the entire city of Norris and beyond,”

Father Abuh said. “Even at 102 years, whatever Angelo decides to do, he puts his heart and soul into it in a way that affects everyone around him! In Angelo, I see a mind whose life and sunny conduct inspires younger generations to the faith with both role modeling and mentoring. Unless for grave reasons,

Angelo is at every daily Mass, and we most times go for breakfast together.”

Music is “a wonderful way of expressing our love,” Mr. Miceli said. “It’s a language that we all understand. There are themes that fit the readings of the day, so that is a nice comfort, that we are participating in the message of the day, even through music. So I enjoy doing that.”

Mr. Miceli said he likes St. Joseph Parish because it has a “very friendly group of parishioners.”

“It’s a very fine group,” he said.

“The parishioners come from various parts of the country. It’s not a provincial community, like for example [nearby] Andersonville, where the people grew up there. The Norris community has brought people from all over the country, so we have a breadth of experience and interest, and that makes for an interesting time to spend with parishioners.”

The pianist has a preference when he chooses the music for Mass.

“When I select the hymn for the day, I make sure that it’s musically interesting and not, shall I say, a monotonous kind of tone that is repeated and repeated, sort of a chant,” he said. “I guess I tend to stay away from chants and go to more musical content that has the message.”

Mr. Miceli’s mother started him out on the piano at an early age.

“I wouldn’t have been in music except for her,” he said. “She started me when I was 6 years old. She insisted I take lessons in piano for six years. She put me in school early, so I started high school when I was 12, and at that time I told her that I had too much homework to do to take more piano lessons, so she allowed me to quit taking piano lessons, but that was a lie because I didn’t do that much homework,” he added with a laugh.

“I must say that I just dropped out of music for a number of years. I had other interests, of course earning a living and so forth. I really didn’t get back into it until 1977 when they needed somebody here.”

At 102 years, Angelo still uses science, engineering, and the cherished language of music to elevate his physical and audible surroundings, Father Abuh said.

“He is still one of our official organists in the parish,” the priest said.

“Angelo’s quiet and generous loyalty to our parish for 40 years has drawn people to him in a sustained and loving way. And in his great wisdom, in order to prove to me that he has understood my homily on Sundays, he delivers a recap that often goes beyond my preaching!”

Mr. Miceli is a native of Manhattan, having grown up in “one of the tenement houses” there.

“Both of my parents were foreign-born, and they had to scramble for a living,” he said. “Both of them were born in Sicily, my mother in Palermo and my dad on the slopes of Mount Etna, an active volcano.

“When I was 4 my family moved to Detroit. My dad wanted to get a job with Ford because Ford was paying $5 a day at that time, and when my mother and dad were working in New York City they were being paid 18 cents per hour in the Garment District. That was pretty much the entryway for foreigners at that time, the Garment District.”

Mr. Miceli and his wife, Vera, were married 55 years until her death in 2003.

“I’m still married,” he said. “Her picture’s in my bedroom—I say hi to her every night.” ■

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