Thoughts on the Journey

I was practicing the double fugue from J. S. Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor today, and suddenly felt a pang of nostalgia.  As some of you may know, I took a rather unconventional path to a career in church music, one that led through 15 years in the vinyl siding business.  My older brother Charlie owned the business, and I worked for him during my high school summers.  When I graduated, I went into vinyl siding full time, eventually becoming his partner.  Ours is a blue collar family, filled with auto mechanics, union laborers, carpenters and factory workers.  No one I knew had ever made music their career, so I never considered it an option. 

It was the mid seventies, and Charlie had installed an 8-Track Player in his pickup.  He was a child of the 50’s, raised on Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Coasters, but by this time he was listening to a varied repertoire of tunes, Mountain, Cream, Uriah Heep, Yes, Chicago etc.  One day, he popped in a home recorded tape, and I heard the opening fanfare of Bach’s Toccata in D minor, played on a pipe organ at ear splitting volume.  The recording was “Heavy Organ” by the great Virgil Fox.  At the time, Virgil was working for the Rogers Electronic organ company, touring the country with a four manual electronic pipe organ, 144 speakers and a professional light show.  (Search Virgil Fox on YouTube)  He played all the major rock concert venues, including the Fillmore East, where “Heavy Organ” was recorded.  He also used the concerts to promote Bach’s music.  A consummate showman and a brilliant player, audiences loved his evangelizing sermons about Bach and his music.  The Passacaglia is the final track on the recording.  I heard it once and said, “Man, I’d love to be able to play that stuff.”  It took almost 30 years, but I’m finally there, thanks to Charlie and Virgil.

Charlie lost a long battle with multiple sclerosis and passed away in March of 1998 at the age of 56.  I played the organ at his funeral, including a setting of “For all the Saints” by Leo Sowerby, which I dedicated to him in thanksgiving for introducing me to organ music and unknowingly planting the seeds of my future career.  While he probably wasn’t familiar with the hymn tune, I’m sure he appreciated the volume level.

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4 Comments

Filed under Church Music, Classical Music

4 responses to “Thoughts on the Journey

  1. Eve Blackwell

    I think I speak for at least my whole family and maybe the music programs at St. George’s, Thank You to Charlie!

  2. Jane Guerin

    I love this story. I can relate to “reinventing” oneself.
    Thank goodness for St. George’s that you did, and thank goodness for me that I did.

    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story.

  3. Joe Price

    John, this truly is an inspiring story and Sandra and I enjoyed reading it very much. Like you, I came late to music, having sprung from common roots in the deep south, all 12 grades in the same building. Fortune smiled on me and during President Johnson’s great society initiatives, my little school received funding for both a football team (we had only basketball before then) and a band!! Well, I was not structured for football but I was excited about playing in the band! I was by then in the 10th grade and since my family could not afford to purchase an instrument, I was pleased to play one of the instruments provided by the school. Started on the E flat mellophone (can you imagine such an instrument!) but the school needed a tuba player more and so I moved to the sousaphone and enjoyed learning more about music. Prior to that time, the only music that I had experienced were old timey church hymns although I still love to sing those as well. Anyway, the next summer, I moved to Starkville, Mississippi to live with another sister and her family because all my family felt that I needed to be in a more challenging school (both parents died when I was in grade 5 living in Florida and after that event, I lived with elder siblings and their families). For my grade 11, I met the teacher who inspired me more than anyone else before in my life, band director Kelly Love. Through his tutelage I really begin to learn music and gained some facility on the tuba. Again fortune moved me with that sister and family to the Dallas environs in the summer before my senior year in high school which, fortuitously, gave me the one year Texas residency needed to attend a land grant college in Texas. God had already blessed my life in many ways but, incredibly, an anonymous donor provided the funds for me to enjoy a full scholarship, covering even living expenses, and I was able to graduate with honors from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, with a Bachelors of Music in undergraduate musicology with performance emphases in voice and piano. Else, it was very unlikely that I would have ever been able to attend college since there was no money for this purpose.

    God has also blessed me by bringing Sandra and I together and now for allowing us to reside in this beautiful area.

    We have much to be grateful for.

  4. MCarey

    What a beautiful story! I thank Charlie and you for sharing your extraordinary talents with us. We are very lucky to have you here at St. George’s.

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