Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Music Ministry

Today, I was driving home from the Birthday Party of one of the WEEC Auxiliary members, and the thought of a Music Ministry came to mind.

I guess you could say that I grew up in a musical family. My dad was a “bass” singer; Mother, an “alto”; Miriam, a “soprano”; and I, mostly a “tenor”.

As a teenager, I sang in the choir of our local church - along with the rest of my family. Though my voice has ALWAYS been in the “tenor” range, for some reason, I sang bass in the choir at times. I think it must have depended on how many “basses” or “tenors” were available that week.

As a result, I learned to read music. At least when to go “up” or “down”. I never developed what some call “perfect pitch”. Though, I don’t think one can “develop” a “perfect pitch”. I believe it’s God-given. This feeling was further substantiated by learning of when Gil Meade, an organist and choral director at Moody Bible Institute, found “perfect pitch”. I learned that when he was a child (under 10 years of age), he could distinguish one tone from another, by naming the spot on the musical scale that the sound made. An automobile horn, for example. Or a train whistle. Or any other musical sound. When he heard it, he would exclaim, “B flat”, or “A”, or whatever note the tone sounded.

I think I developed what people call “relative pitch”. That is, hearing what one note on the scale sounded like, I could “sing” the note a “third”, or “fifth” above or below that, and, find and sing the other notes also. That only comes from experience, if one doesn’t have “perfect pitch”.

Though I regularly sang in church, that wasn’t the ONLY type of music I liked. I was into “popular music” also, and in much later years, “classical” music. I liked the “Big Band” sound of Glenn Miller, Kay Kyser, Benny Goodman et al. What just now comes to mind (I do this all the time) after listing these, was that overseas during World War II, we had the privilege of having been visited by the band of Kay Kyser. He regularly had a “quiz” on his show, that he called “Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge”. And, though Glenn Miller had been killed in a plane crash in Europe while entertaining the troops, we had also a later visit from “The Glenn Miller Orchestra”, led by Tex Beneke.

Back to earlier years.

At about age 15 or 16 I think, some of my friends and I were attending the Champaign County Fair one time, when someone noticed that there was a booth that featured a disk recording device, that when sung into, made a flat plastic recording. Somewhat like the 78 RPM records of that day, only much smaller, and certainly not professional. It was also a 78.

One of my friends, knowing of my singing, suggested I step up and make a recording. I finally acquiesced, and ended up singing one of the popular songs of the day, “Oh Johnny!” (Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, how you can love. Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, heavens above. You make the whole world…………. etc.) I can almost remember the whole song, unfortunately.

Then, I remember, a year or so later, I began singing solos at church. One piece I remember was the classic “O Rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him, and He shall give thee thy heart’s desire, O Rest……etc.” I think I can sing (to myself) all the way through the song. The amazing thing is that the last time I sang, or even saw, that song, or the Scripture that it’s based on, was maybe 70 years ago. The memory is an amazing thing. Or, as I think I have said before, “My memory is perfect. Recall is my problem.”

Remembering those words reminds me of another song from years ago (at least when I first sang it), the song, “Little man you’re crying, I know why you’re blue, some one took you kiddie car…………..” I can sing that one all the way through also. To myself, of course. I now remember that Jean and I sang that one to some of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

And, even YEARS later, I still remember the words to one or two verses of maybe 30 Gospel Songs of bygone eras.

When I joined the Radio Ministry of the Moody Bible Institute in 1954, and after I was promoted and had a steady daytime schedule, I attended Evening School there, and, along with some Bible classes and Christian Education courses, I took Music, including song leading, and choral conducting. That was the most formal music training I ever had.

At our church in Chicago at that time, we had a Choir Director who was outstanding. His name was Mel Kasen - since deceased I’ve learned. He developed such a following at church, that one year at Christmas, we had 50 to 60 voices (my son Jim helps me to remember) when we performed several parts of Handel’s Messiah. I NOW remember (I hadn’t thought of it until just now), that I sang the Tenor recitative “Comfort Ye My People”, and the solo, “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted”.

During that same period, I served as Assistant Sunday School Superintendent, and then Superintendent after one year, and after some Christian Education training at Evening School at Moody, I began organizing the Sunday School, and reaching out to the community.

In addition to Evening School, I got involved in the National Sunday School Association, headquartered in Chicago, and attended several Sunday School Conventions that they sponsored. I learned how to successfully “run” a Sunday Bible School. One of the crowning achievements of our Sunday School Staff, was a record attendance of 426 one Sunday, during a contest. This beat the previous record of 425.

When I retired as Superintendent, Mel Kasen asked me if I would accept the position of Assistant Choir Director, and kinda supervise the overall program - including section rehearsals, etc.

The time finally came when Mel retired as Director. I THINK he moved to Wisconsin, but I’m not sure.

I then got the Choir Director’s job by default. (Job is the operative word here, since the position paid a modest salary.)

Beginning in the fall of that year, we began rehearsal on a monumental Christmas program, consisting of maybe twenty different songs or pieces. We even had a printed program, listing all the music, as well as the groups who performed. We even had some “antiphony” groups in the back balcony.

Another “crowning achievement”!

Then, God called us to leave Chicago, and join Christian Radio Station WEEC in Springfield OH, as General Manager. Previous postings tell of this experience.

Shortly after our arrival in Springfield our church needed a Sunday School Superintendent, and I was elected. It seems to me that at about the same time, I became the Choir Director also.

We all had a wonderful experience in these ministries, culminated in my thinking, by a magnificent (in my opinion) rendition of “The Seven Last Words of Christ”. I can STILL see the choir, and FEEL their sad, but glorious singing of that Cantata. In the part where the crowd is depicted as saying about Jesus: “Take Him! Take Him! Let us crucify Him!”, I could FEEL the choir entering into the telling of this terrible experience of the Lord Jesus.

Very gratifying!

Music and Christian Education had been my church work for 10 or 15 years, in at least two churches. I have fond memories of both experiences.

Praise the Lord!

My music interest wouldn’t be completely told without mentioning my antipathy toward “out of tune” pianos. That is, a piano being “out of tune” with itself. And, over 11 years of hearing the pianos in Studios A and B at WMBI, I developed an “ear” for pianos that are out of tune with themselves.

Let me explain: The upper register of keys on a grand piano have 3 strings for each note. Toward the middle, there are 2 strings per note. (These are called “Unisons”.) Then, in the Bass section, just one string. In tuning a piano, the tuner must “tune” all three strings exactly alike, or it will sound “tinny”. (Like the proverbial “bar room piano” we hear described on TV.) And, the two string notes tuned exactly alike, as well.

Aside: To get the “bar room piano” sound purposely for a TV story, one or more of the 3 strings is just SLIGHTLY “de-tuned”, as might happen over a long period of time without tuning. It now sounds “tinny”.

Pianos don’t stay in tune - perfectly that is - for too long. Humidity, temperature or other outside factors affect that. And, heavy playing would gradually stretch one of the strings in the set of 3, and then sound “out of tune”, at least to me.

At WMBI, and I assume for all of the pianos at Moody Bible Institute, our pianos were completely tuned once a month. Virgil Smith, a Music Department instructor got training and experience in piano tuning. In addition, every Saturday morning, he came to the Studios, and “trimmed” the “unisons” and “octaves” of both of the 9 foot Grand Pianos. That is, one or more of the 3, or the 2 strings could slip some and be “flat”, or “out of tune” with another string, or a note an octave higher or lower. Virgil could correct that, and he did so every week.

Even professional recordings that are sold and aired on radio stations have “out of tune” pianos. I’ve heard them. That is, the piano is “out of tune”, with itself.

Finally, my music interest is shown by the latest recordings on my iPod that I carry with me all the time. Earlier I described the iPod. Three days ago, I downloaded some CDs to it, and now have 785 songs of all kinds (including Gospel Songs and Hymns, of course), plus reading chapters of the Bible - 21 from The Gospel of John; 28 from The Acts; 16 from Romans; 6 from Ephesians, and 10 Psalms.

My practice is to listen to the iPod in bed before I go to sleep every night. I think I’ve missed three nights in the last 3 months.

Whew! This is the longest posting I’ve made on this blog. I just hope it fits in the space provided.

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