Heart and Soul

My parents attend a small church in Wye Mountain, Arkansas. The people are kind and serve as a beautiful light in their community. Each Wednesday evening they welcome, feed, love, and teach a large group of children. And those without transportation? They pick them up and take them back home.

The building is simple. A beautiful, stained glass window graces the wall behind the podium. A piano sits to the left. There are no fancy lights, no choir, and no band. Only a few microphones and speakers. And there is always coffee in the kitchen.

Every time I visit, mom asks me to bring piano music. My trip last weekend was no different. Of course, I forgot and had to go music shopping on Saturday. I chose a new book of hymn arrangements and picked two to play during the service on Sunday.

My Aunt Linda, who happened to be my first piano teacher, plays for the services each week. I saw her Sunday morning before the service began, gave her a hug, and she asked, “Are you playing today?” I smiled, “Yes.” “Want to play for the whole service?” she asked. “I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”

And so, I played the hymns and this precious group of people sang along. I also played my carefully chosen solo. As I began to play, the air grew still. The only sounds flowed from the piano.

The melody in this particular arrangement was a familiar hymn tune. One I remember from childhood. One which brings peace.

I need Thee every hour,
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine,
Can peace afford.
I need Thee, O I need Thee,
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, Savior,
I come to Thee.

After the service, many people thanked me for playing. Truthfully, I should have been thanking them. Being with them reminded me of how sweet it is when people worship together in simplicity.

Experiencing last Sunday morning from behind the piano (my favorite spot 😉 ) filled my heart and soul to overflowing.

Memories & Hymns

Some of my earliest memories of playing the piano in public are at church. I attended a small, country church as a child. On Sundays when the pianist was not there, the music director would come to get me out of Sunday school. “Ok, Kelley girl, which hymns do you know how to play?”

We would go over the list, making sure I was comfortable with each selection. After our short practice, it was time for the service. I’m not sure my exact age, elementary school, but I remember barely being able to see over the piano.

Who is this little girl? 😉

Thinking back to those early memories of playing, I don’t remember being nervous or afraid. I only remember being excited about the opportunity to play. The place and people provided encouragement and support. And it was fun!

Those early experiences lead to many more years of playing in churches. Different types of churches, services, funerals, weddings. Actually, I’ve spent more years playing piano in church than not.

Currently, I’m in one of those “not playing” times. Services have changed, much more involved and complex. Not that it’s a bad thing, just different. One that I don’t feel lead to do at this time. Maybe that will change in the future, who knows?

The simplicity of my childhood experiences is long gone. And although I sometimes miss that playing, I realize the important part remains. The music is forever part of my heart and mind.

The following is a short list of some of those early hymns:

  • Amazing Grace
  • In the Garden
  • Sweet Hour of Prayer
  • What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Sitting here on my couch typing, I can hear them in my mind. I can feel them in my fingers. I can see the notes and words on the pages. Sometimes they flood my thoughts right when I need them. 🙂

I am grateful for the memories of these hymns. They are a powerful part of my musical and spiritual foundation.

“…speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:19

What a Friend We Have in Jesus-Me playing in 2001. Arrangement by
Phillip Keveren

When My Opinion Doesn’t Matter

Music has the ability to both unify and separate.  Think about it-how many times has one single song been used to represent and bring unity to a social movement?  “We Shall Overcome” & “We are the World” immediately come to mind. The opposite is also true.  History tells us of music such as Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” causing rioting in the streets of Paris during its debut.

What causes these polar opposite occurrences? Opinions!  We all have plenty of those.  What we like and don’t like.  What we think sounds good or sounds bad.  Oh, how we love to share, myself included. The problems occur when respect is absent from the sharing of said opinions.

At the beginning of the school year, I have discussions with my students concerning music and respect.  After listing many different styles of music, students have the opportunity to share their favorite.  I remind them that we always show respect for our friends opinions. We also talk about how boring it would be to hear the same music all the time, and the importance of giving something new a chance.

As I considered this respectful sharing of opinions, my thoughts moved from the classroom to the church.  There is definitely a wide variety of styles and opinions concerning music in this realm. Having played piano in church since I was a little girl, I have experienced these styles and opinions on many occasions.

Hymns such as “Amazing Grace” and “What a Friend We have in Jesus” immediately take me back to my childhood.  They provided a strong foundation for expressing my faith.  As a teen I remember playing and singing the chorus “Pass it On” and listening to Keith Green’s “Songs for the Shepherd.” There was truth and power in this new style of song.  Although different from the hymns, their meanings were the same.  As an adult, songs such as “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me and “Praise You in this Storm” by Casting Crowns provided comfort and reassurance during difficult times of grief when I questioned my faith.

Sadly, I have also witnessed the polarizing effect music can have in the church.  As some choose to dig their heels in for tradition, unwilling to consider anything new, the result is often a weakened message.  On the opposite side, others become so engulfed with constantly seeking something new, the message doesn’t have time to sink in or provide the intended encouragement.

So what’s my conclusion?  Personally, I find security and strength in the old, while experiencing comfort and renewed energy in the new.  I believe there’s room for both.  But those are my opinions.  If I lose focus, forgetting the reason for the music, then my opinions really don’t matter.  Truthfully, in this situation I’m not sure they really matter anyway.

“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.”  Psalm 96:1

“…speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.  Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God…”  Ephesians 5:19-20