If ever the Lutheran Church of Honolulu were to name a poet laureate, hands down it would be Pastor Fritz Fritschel. He was for many years the Assisting Pastor and was known for his use of frog puppets—all with names starting with F—during the children’s sermon. I won’t ever hear the names Felix, Fergus, Franklin, Flossie, or Felicia without thinking of Fritz and his scores of frog dolls and puppets. (Strange, I don’t think he ever named any of the frogs Fritz!)
The association of children and frogs led to the name of the Sunday School ensemble, F.R.OG.S., which stands for Families Revering Our God in Song. From the beginning, the annual children’s concert (formerly a benefit for Heifer International) opened with a poem newly-written by Fritz on the subject of animals, always full of clever puns and wry humor.
For many years Fritz was the playwright of humorous skits for Lutherfest, the church’s annual Oktoberfest stewardship dinner, and we howled with laughter over the antics of Martin Luther and his hapless wife, Kate, as they had one misadventure after another, coming to Hawaii, appearing on a game show and other crazy travels. Another time there was even a skit he wrote about Ionian Arts, the music publishing company founded by the Crosiers and Peter Hallock!
Fritz was a master at contrafacta, the practice of setting new words to existing melodies. One of the best ones he ever wrote (in my opinion) was called Hymn Hallman (2009), dedicated to local organist and harpist, Nyle Hallman of Central Union Church on the occasion of her 80th birthday. Set to the tune Lasst uns erfreuen (All creatures of our God and King), he wrote:
For nearly thirty years they played
Ecclesiastic music made,
Roy and Nyle
On this isle.
Their skills brought endless harmony
To Union’s faithful company.
With their choirs
Roy and Nyle,
On this isle,
Brings a smile.
She sat at organs as a child
Pulling the stops while going wild
On the keyboard,
Like a surfboard.
Her feet and fingers fairly flew,
In major keys and minor, too.
On the keyboard
Like a surfboard,
Once taught by Porter and by Sykes,
Coci, McCurdy and the likes
They taught her how to play her best,
Pipes, pistons, pedals and celeste.
For the living
Gave orchestra ephemeral flair,
With sounds of angels’ favorite air,
Harp strings humming,
Her backseat prowess blessed the crowd,
With plucking sounds as on a cloud,
Now for the notes as yet unplayed,
We raise our songs in accolade,
Let ‘er ring,
Let’s all sing.
Let music warm the hearts of all
New melodies the crowds enthrall,
All the while,
Shades of Nyle,
All in style.
For my 40th birthday he composed this poem:
You know, dear Kathy, of keyboard fame,
To happens to many regardless of how they feel,
That stumbling along into this frame
Of life called forty, they wince or squeal
And perhaps deny the entire game.
Or, if not the game, at least the score!
“Are those figures right? Thank God, it’s not more.”
But when you consider
That to be born a score of years later
Could leave us all with still greater
Confusion, there’s no time to be bitter.
After all, we’ve often heard it debated
Forty is the beginning of life—
If twenty were your age we celebrated
We dare say we’d know you not as Carl’s wife.
But we’re happy that you are
The way you are,
With precisely your number of years,
Your number of fingers and number of feet
Which account for so many our cheers
When you fugue and postlude at the organ seat.
May your blessings be full and timely
As you, with Carl and Stephen, a family trio,
Continue to treat us so sublimely
With exotic foods and heavenly notes con brio.
Also, remember the wonderful words he wrote on Carl Crosier’s retirement, “Mix and match,” and on the contrafacta he composed on the tune, “When in our music God is glorified,” for my retirement from church music. Here are verses 3-7:
3. The organ trumpets sound of joy replete
while children watch in awe at Kathy’s feet
before the hymn concludes, a four-fold beat, Alleluia!
4. Her students know of Bach and fugal art,
how hands and feet each play a crucial part,
when joined as one, in play, they touch one’s heart, Alleluia!
5. Her fingers flit ‘cross keys that end in trills:
toccata’s runs produce their own bright thrills.
By practice she can play as e’er she wills. Alleluia!
6. When asked to play in rites with smells and bells,
she keeps the rhythm’s pace with strength, it tells,
as when the chorus ends with its own yells, Alleluia!
7. Our gratitude for years of sparkling play,
of music’s beauty in such wide array,
for Kathy’s artistry we gladly say, Alleluia!
Yesterday, we received this sad news:
Aloha, Fritz. We love you.