Last Sunday was my mother’s 93rd birthday. I’m happy to report that she is in reasonably good health and has all her faculties. I mention her now because she was my first music teacher. She was quite a good pianist in her teens and even won a grand piano in a competition, which she gave away before going to medical school. After being a practicing pediatrician for many years, when she retired at age 83, she decided to resume playing the piano in addition to beginning harp lessons.
Everyone in my family is musical. Although my father was the exception and was self-taught, all my siblings, uncles, aunts, and first cousins (without exception!) play musical instruments. Oh, not for a living—many of them became doctors, as both my parents were. But I can remember the family gathered around the piano and singing on many an evening, as we grew up without television.
Carl, on the other hand, is the only musician in his family. Although his mother sang in the church choir, she didn’t learn to read music until Carl begged for piano lessons. His family didn’t know about the discipline required of a musician, and his mother used to tell me that they were “driven out of the house by Bartok and Prokofiev,” not knowing that musical passages have to be practiced over and over.
But it was the music-making at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Port Angeles, WA that made such a profound and lasting impression upon Carl. Pastor Carl Fischer was a concert organist who faced the decision of having to choose between becoming a musician or a pastor. In addition to preaching in the pulpit, he conducted the adult choir and frequently played the Bach organ works on festival Sundays. His wife, Laurie, was conservatory-trained as a singer and conducted the junior choir.
One day the local Port Angeles newspaper ran a feature article on the junior choir because they had been given new vestments, sewn by Carl’s grandmother. As you can see in the picture, everyone in the choir has their music books open, except for Carl (center, first row) who had his book closed! Of course, it was because he had memorized the music! The experiences of singing in this particular church not only influenced Carl. At least six professional church musicians and more than a dozen pastors came out of this parish.
Isn’t it amazing that the experiences that we have as young children often shape our lives? I’ve already mentioned that Joey Fala, my organ student, first heard the organ as a preschooler and was driven to find out how to play it.
And another of my young students started organ as a four-year-old, because “she wanted to do what Joey was doing.”