I liked the rector at the small Episcopal church in Waco during my college years. I had played at his church on occasion and we had a cordial relationship. One summer when I was home with my parents, I asked my mother if we could have this man and his wife out for dinner. So Mama graciously prepared a fine meal and they drove to our house in the country. Over dinner, conversation naturally turned to church matters. I have no idea what led to this remark, but at one point point the rector said to me, “You’re the hired hand, boy.” And he never heard me play another note for as long as he lived.
Playing the organ or piano is not a demeaning thing to do per se. However, some situations in which I have been involved were less than inspiring. For example, I was playing for a community theater production of “Damn Yankees” just west of Chicago. (I have no idea how I got the gig.) The director of the show was loud and profane, perhaps because he deemed it “professional” to act like he did. He did not throw words at me personally, but observing his conduct was very uncomfortable. The cast and I were being paid so we tolerated things. When the show was done, we washed our hands of the entire experience.
I have also accompanied choir rehearsals for two choir directors who were angry people. Neither was demeaning to me, but one of them humiliated a girl during a rehearsal in a way I will never forget. The directors were angry for completely different reasons, but the effect on those around them was the same: Tension was in the air.
I played for 13 months at a church where the organ was lovely and the choir members were delightful. However, there was political strife between the pastors, and the choir director was ignorant. One of the pastors had a pleasant baritone voice that people enjoyed hearing, while another had a tenor voice that was not as easy to listen to. The content of their sermons was irrelevant. The choir sang one particular anthem for 5 Sundays during my relatively brief tenure at that church because the choir director was incapable of looking through the fine choral library that the church owned. He could not play one note on the piano.
On the other hand, I am reminded of a musical that I actually played on two different occasions that was a delight in both rehearsals and performance. The show was “Working.” It is based on the book of the same title by Studs Terkel, a celebrity in his day in Chicago. His book celebrated the working lives of all sorts of people. Included were a checkout girl at a grocery store, a housewife, a mason, a waitress, a retired salesman, and others I am forgetting. The characters and their jobs were uplifted throughout the book and the show.
Probably the finest pastor I ever worked with was Rev. Karl Landgrebe. He was not a great preacher and he was not brimming with warmth. But, he was honest, decent, apolitical, and truly interested in conveying God’s Word to his congregation. He could have read the telephone book as a sermon and nobody would have cared because he was such a good person. When we worked together, he was serving as an interim pastor in a church that had gone through a political nightmare. Pastor Landgrebe was the perfect shepherd to heal a fractured flock.
Miss Perry often said the following: “The Church is bound to have been divinely ordained to have withstood the corrupt clergy through lo these many centuries.” When she arrived at the word “lo,” she raised the fist of her right hand in the air and shook it. Pastor Landgrebe was a profound exception to Miss Perry’s message.
I did not remember taking exception to the clergyman that night at dinner. The words were said, and the damage was done. He probably did just fine without my playing. But, although I have made mistakes in my life, I try, in spite of my reserved and introverted nature, to treat people with as much dignity and grace as I am capable. Perhaps one who is blessed the gift of playing has a responsibility to conduct himself properly. Rarely do I feel like some other people would have me sometimes feel.