July 25, 2009

Mary B

While I was growing up, I went to Moreland Christian Church. It was your average church of the 70s and 80s. It was started in the 50s by the big church in the area (First Christian Church), like many around the Canton, Ohio area. It is the place that I called my church home from the time I was born till I left for GLCC in 1993. It is the place that I met my beautiful wife. Actually, I don't know if you would call that meeting--being babies in the nursery together. There's not much meeting at that stage of the game. But, that's not what this post is about, so I'm going to move on.

Moreland had a tradition of great music when I was growing up. It wasn't the rock band back in the day. Our worship consisted of hymns accompanied by an organ and piano. Now, one would think this is normal and typical. Honestly, it probably was typical. However, the ladies on the benches behind the piano and organ were not typical.

Mary and Jerry, when I got involved in the worship were in their 60s. They were wonderful, sweet ladies who loved our church and loved playing music for God. By that time, I would guess they had been playing music for our church for 30 or more years. I wouldn't be surprised if they played the music for my parents or Steph's parents weddings there at Moreland. They certainly played the music for our wedding. They would meet at the church every Saturday morning to practice the hymns they were leading, along with a prelude and an offertory piece. After each song, they would lean out around their music and converse about what they just played. It was a lot like the conversations between Chip and Dale, two chipmunks from Walt Disney. "That was lovely!" one would say. The other would chime in, "Indeed!" It was rather comical.

In the late 80s, Mary and Jerry finally gave in to recording some of their music. I had the opportunity to help another gentleman in the church record them. It took a couple of evenings with his good mics and his reel to reel tape recorder. We were rather high tech then! It was quintessential Mary and Jerry. We had a blast listening to them play and make their instruments sing. And, not surprisingly, it normally only took a single take to record a song. They were that good.

Actually, that brings me to the story that I wanted to tell about Mary. I would guess that Mary had been playing the piano since she was a little girl. She was certainly a master at what she did, with correct hand positioning and form. And, she could pretty much site read anything. At her worst, it would take her a couple of times before she had it mastered. One night during a choir rehearsal, I remember her finding a mistake in the music. Someone in the notation department had missed a natural mark or something minute. It didn't get past Mary. The funny thing about that is that she had to write it in to play it correctly. Her eyes and hands were so connected when she played that she couldn't play the right note until she wrote in what was missing.

Her other memorable gift in my opinion as a musician was being able to talk one rhythm and clap another. I remember we were working on Christmas music one fall. We always got a huge jump on the Christmas music because December's Night of Music was something spectacular at our church. This particular year we were working on the music from An Evening in December. It was a Capella music with rather difficult arrangements. One of the pieces had two different rhythms going on and of course, we were struggling with it. Mary showed us what we were doing wrong by clapping out the one part while she spoke the other part. Needless to say, we were in awe.

Mary spent more time behind the piano at the church than she did sitting in the pews. She had a passion for the church. She had a passion for the piano. She had a passion for her husband Harold and her family. She loved her personal trampoline (the ones that were only 3 feet across). She overcame cancer after I had moved away to college and continued so serve at Moreland.

Mary passed away yesterday at the ripe old age of 89. Jerry passed away a few years ago. The music at Moreland is still quality. It is simply missing the special chemistry that these two ladies had as they made music together. But, they both ran the race well and are now celebrating in new ways, maybe on the benches of better pianos and organs!