Join the Ranks!


Combining my interest in history with performing on a magnificent organ seemed like a great idea, so when Mike Hobbs, from the Civil War Round Table, asked me to provide a program for them I quickly agreed.  I had absolutely no idea, however, how this event would grow…and grow…and grow over the next days and weeks.  What started out as a simple program for a local group has become a much larger event with TV, radio, print and social media coverage.

Click here to watch a KWQC TV Channel 6 segment from “Fran Riley Features…” about the concert.  After watching the video, scroll to find a gallery of photos they took while on location.

During the taping of that segment, John was in the church balcony and took a few photos of his own, shown below.  (Thanks to my daughter Lisa for the great title to the program!)

Thanks to everyone who helped spread the word:  Fran Riley and Channel 6 KWQC, the Galesburg Register-Mail (click here to see the article),  WGIL and Terry Cavanaugh, and all my friends and family (love those Facebook shares!).

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Every Time I Feel the Spirit

It is not always possible to find the story behind a song.  Songs classified as African-American spirituals, like this one, were typically created by slaves living in the southern United States in the pre-Civil War era.  The tunes and words were passed down for generations before even being written.

If we try to guess what might have been the inspiration for any song, it is truly only our personal conclusion, perhaps guided by study, certainly filtered by our own time and experiences.  Such is the case with Every Time I Feel the Spirit, one of my all time favorite songs.   I have read that some people consider Galatians 4:6 as the verse of inspiration for the song.  Could be.  Or not.  We don’t know.

We do know, however, that words of spirituals often had multiple meanings.  This idea of layered meanings in lyrics is still around.  I know of more than a few secular songs –and I bet you do, too– in which the double meaning of the words escapes parents but brings an exchange of winks and sly grins among their adolescent children and friends.  Multi-layered meanings are and were readily understood by the target audience.  For example, the line in Every Time I Feel the Spirit that reads, “There ain’t but one train on this track; It runs to heaven…” is likely referring to the Underground Railroad and the escape to freedom, a message easily recognized and of comfort to those enduring slavery.

It is impossible to separate the message from the form in a spiritual song.  A call-and-response song might contain the coded message in the “call” part of the song.  The “response” could be an indicator that the message was received. Much in the same way, songs with multiple verses and a refrain could contain information sent and acknowledged.  If a variation of a song (or portion of a song)  was sung, it could be an alert that new information was coming, not unlike a “breaking news” banner across the TV screen of today. It was simple yet brilliant and highly effective.

What messages does your heart hear in this song?

Here is a link to an organ setting of this song.  It is great fun to play, and is my postlude of choice on Pentecost.

Every Time I Feel The Spirit

Every time I feel the spirit
Movin’ in my heart I will pray
Every time I feel the spirit
Movin’ in my heart I will pray

Up on the mountains my Lord spoke
Out of His mouth came fire and smoke
Looked all around me, it looked so fine
I asked the Lord could it be mine

Every time I feel the spirit
Movin’ in my heart I will pray

The Jordan river is chilly and cold.
It chills the body but not the soul.
There ain’t but one train upon this track.
It runs to heaven and then right back.

Every time I feel the spirit
Movin’ in my heart I will pray

Oh, I have sorrow and I have woe
I have heartaches here below
But while God leads me I’ll never fear
For I know that He is near

Bunte Blätter, Opus 99, by Schumann

Between 1838 to 1841, German composer Robert Schumann wrote the fourteen piano pieces which later became collectively known as Opus 99, Bunte Blätter (Colorful Leaves).  It is an unusual collection, consisting of Stücklein III (Three Small Pieces), five untitled Albumblätter (Album Leaves), and six individual piano pieces.

Schumann was first a composer for solo piano.  With the support and encouragement of his wife, Clara, Schumann also wrote vocal, choral and orchestral works.  Some of Schumann’s works have been transcribed for organ, and I enjoy playing the fifth Albumblätter, Langsam (slow) as an organ prelude for a Sunday morning.  The quiet and calm of this song gives us an opportunity to meditate and focus.

O God, Beyond All Praising (THAXTED)

It was during the turmoil of World War I that English composer Gustav Holst completed The Planets, arguably one of the most popular orchestral suites ever written.   The suite has seven movements, each named for a planet.  While experiencing the complete suite is certainly ideal, movements are sometimes performed individually.  In the case of “Jupiter,” there is even a section within this movement that is often heard apart from the whole.

In 1921, Holst adapted his theme from “Jupiter” to fit a patriotic poem by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice entitled I Vow to Thee, My Country.  A few years later, Holst’s friend and fellow composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, included the song in a hymnal he was editing.  From then on, the tune became known as THAXTED, named for the town in England where Holst and his family lived.

Many hymn writers have paired their words with the tune THAXTED.  In 1982, Michael Perry wrote one of the very finest of these hymns.  It is known as O God Beyond Our Praising, and begins with these words:

O God beyond all praising,
we worship you today
and sing the love amazing
that songs cannot repay.

In this recording of the tune, I am playing the magnificent Triumvirate Organ at the Central Congregational Church, in Galesburg, Illinois.  I hope you enjoy this stately, glorious hymn of praise.

The complete lyrics to O God Beyond All Praising can be found at this link:  O Go Beyond All Praising


Ring of Fire

Sometimes, all roads lead to Rome.  For me, all roads led to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.  Many years ago, I was the editor of a journal for the International Association of Organ Teachers.  IAOT was having their annual convention in Valley Forge in tandem with a Home Organists Adventure, produced by Bill Worrall.  A month or so before the convention, organ artist Bill Irwin saw a book I had recently written (All About Registration), and was great encouragement to me.  He suggested that upon my arrival at the event, I should introduce myself to Bill Worrall, and offer to conduct a workshop if needed.  So, I did.   I knew I was prepared. In addition to writing the book, I had recently conducted several similar workshops in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, where I lived and worked at the time. Two days later, I received a very early call from Bill Worrall, asking me if I would be able to lead a workshop later that morning.  The person originally scheduled to appear was unable to make her flight.  I’m not a morning person, and was amazed that the voice that said “Certainly!” sounded eager and awake, even in its pre-coffee state.

I walked into a large convention room filled with the fans of the person who wasn’t there. Awkward! I introduced myself, explained the situation, and launched into the workshop based on my recently published book.  Thankfully, I had several copies of the book with me (ready to be submitted to the IOAT book review committee) to use for illustration and prompts.   I was off and running.

Bill sat in the back row, listening and evaluating. Remember, Bill and I had never met before this convention.  All of this was happening because of a verbal referral from a mutual colleague and friend.  A few minutes into the workshop, I saw Bill slip out.  I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a good sign….or not…but I kept going.  Bill soon returned with one of the organ industry’s brightest stars.   They sat down together and listened.  Bill left again, and soon returned with another performing artist.

One by one, that back row began to fill with artists I admired but had never met.  That, indeed, was my Ring of Fire.


At the end of my presentation, I received a standing ovation, not only from the convention attendees, but from these well-known greats of the organ industry.  I was humbled and amazed.  I ended up selling the books I had brought as review copies, and took orders for many more.  From that moment on, my career began to move in a very different direction.



Liebster Award

Thank you to artist Maria Brinkley for nominating me for this award.  Please visit her site and enjoy her artwork, photography and tales.

The guidelines for accepting the award are as follows:

  • Post the award on your blog
  • Thank the blogger who presented the award to you and link back to their blog
  • Share 11 things about yourself
  • Answer the 11 questions given to you by the person that nominated you
  • Nominate 11 bloggers who have less than 200 followers
  • Create 11 questions for your nominees to answer
  • Notify your nominees by posting your nomination on their blog.

Okay, here we go.

11 things about me?

1.  I love to crochet, but am not a big fan of patterns.  I like to go where the breeze takes me.

2.  The only paying job I ever had that was not related to the music industry or photography was when I was in junior high.  Each Saturday morning, I would walk to the downtown store of a local jeweler, and polish silver. At the end of the day, I had earned a dollar or two, then walked home.

3.  I recently began studying harp.

4.  I wish my body would allow me to have all the coffee I want.  It doesn’t. Ditto for chocolate.

5.  I am an organized neat freak, as my family will confirm.

6.  My mood determines which instrument I want to play.  Piano is when I feel introspective, organ is for when I feel more expansive.  And the volume of my music is directly proportionate to the energy/frustration I need to work off.

7.  I tear up WAY too easily.  A good Hallmark card will do the trick.

8.  I won’t travel by plane anymore, but I love trains!

9.  Love to cook.  Not a big fan of cleaning.

10.  Garden gnomes.  One can never have too many garden gnomes.

11.  The only thing that approaches the joy I get from being with my children is the joy I get from being with my grandchildren.


The 11 Questions that Maria asked me are:

1.  What is your earliest memory?
Disturbing a wasp nest and ending up in the emergency room because of the stings.

2.  What is your dream job?
I’ve already had several dream jobs fulfilled, but my favorite was a staff writer/arranger for Sheet Music Magazine.  I especially enjoy anything to do with writing and teaching.

3.   What is your oldest childhood toy that you still own?
I still have many of my baby toys, teddy bears, baby dolls and such.

4.  What is your favourite music and why?
If I am playing the music, my favorite songs are those that reflect my mood at that moment.  If I am listening to someone else play the music, I want to be impressed by exceptional quality and artistry.  Instrumentation and style doesn’t matter too much to me.

5.  What is your favourite Public Holiday and why?
Thanksgiving. Partly because we all can work towards being more appreciative of what we have.  But also because as a church musician, I usually don’t have extra services to prepare. 🙂

6.  Which food do you like best?

7.  What was your favourite travel destination?  And do you return to the same place or go different places?
My favorite destination is home.   I enjoy going and seeing other places and people, but ultimately, I like to be home.

8.  What is your least liked housework chore?
Whichever one is on the top of my ‘to do’ list.

9.  What movie is special to you and why?
12 Angry Men.  What a powerful reminder of how we are so easily influenced by what others say and do.  Few people have true boldness of conviction.

10.  How do you unwind after a busy day?
I might play organ or piano or harp.  I might crochet.  Hot tea is usually involved.

11.   What is your greatest achievement?
Personally, raising my daughters to be strong, independent, amazing women. Professionally, hearing from people that something I have played, written or taught has made a difference in his/her life.

 My questions for my nominees are:

1.  If you could live in any place on the earth, where would it be?

2. Which historical person do you wish you could sit and talk with for an hour? Why? (and yes, I count that as one question!)

3. How did one particular teacher influence your life (good or bad)?

4. If you could only have a recording of one song, what would it be?

5.  Favorite day of the week, and why?

6. Describe your favorite photograph.

7. Describe your perfect meal.

8. Name something on your bucket list.

9. What one word do you think describes you best?

10.  What one word would your family say describes you best?

11.  Are you glad there are only 11 questions?  🙂



My 11 nominees for the Liebster Award are –

Please take a look at all these  blogs and enjoy!  Congratulations to my 11 nominees.


A day in Hammond Organ history

When U.S. Patent 1,956,350 was issued to Laurens Hammond on April 24, 1934, for an “electrical musical instrument,”  the world of music changed forever.


My first organ was a Hammond.  My Aunt Vina, my school, my church and just about everyone else I knew who had an organ, had a Hammond organ.  Do you know who got the very first Hammond organ every made?  George Gershwin.  Henry Ford was a fan, too.  He purchased six of them.  Hammond organs have been played by major artists such as Count Basie, Fats Waller, Jimmy Smith, Booker T Jones, Gregg Allman, and many, many more, and are still played today by artists and enthusiasts everywhere.

Laurens “Larry” Hammond didn’t start out to invent an organ.  He wasn’t even a musician. He was an inventor.  I, for one, am glad he followed his dreams so that we could follow our dreams and make music happen.



God of Grace and God of Glory

“God of grace and God of glory, on your people pour thy power.”  These opening words from the hymn with the same name set the mood for a majestic and jubilant hymn.  Although it is typically used as a processional hymn, I think it makes a particularly effective closing or recessional hymn, asking for God’s strength as we leave the sanctuary and return to the world.

Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) wrote this text as part of the 1930 opening celebration of Riverside Church in New York City.  Fosdick was an influential figure throughout his career through teaching, preaching and writing.  Ordained a Baptist, Fosdick served as minister to First Presbyterian Church, New York, where his eloquence from the pulpit became well-known.  His writings garnered much attention, but his liberal views caused controversy among fundamentalists.

The story of his life is an interesting one, full of controversies and colorful personalities.  As I was reading about him, I found myself frowning at some of his views, yet smiling at others.  I began to wonder if perhaps my love of this hymn was misplaced.  I mean, is it okay to appreciate the work of someone when I disagree with some of his views?  Do the views that are in line with my own allow me to cut him some slack in other areas?  I have researched hundreds of hymn writers through the years and I have come to this conclusion:  Every single one of them, without exception, is human.  Have some hymn writers led lives that could be considered more godly, more wholesome, more ‘correct’ than others?  Certainly, and I am thankful for their witness.  Have some of them taught what might be considered heresy in certain circles, or others taken some mighty hard falls, even to denying their faith?  Without a doubt.  Does that mean we should avoid singing the songs they penned? Not necessarily.  If we are to deny ourselves access to everything written by a flawed human, then you should not be reading this blog.  I, too, am a flawed human.   It is only because of my imperfection and God’s perfect grace that I can sing with Fosdick “God of grace and God of glory, on your people pour thy power…..Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the facing of this hour!”

In Times Like These

Have you ever wondered why someone would write a song?  What event or circumstances prompted that person to sit down and write the words and/or music?  In 1944, in the height of World War II, the stress and conflict weighed heavily on British housewife, Ruth Caye Jones. In the midst of going about her daily chores, she felt God speaking to her with these words.  She stopped what she was doing and immediately wrote down both the words and the music.

Twenty or so years later,  I heard my father sang this song as a solo in church.  He didn’t have the powerful voice of George Beverly Shea (even though they shared a first name), but he certainly had the conviction.  His tenor was clear, the message strong.  I only recall him ever singing two solos, this one, and “I Believe in Miracles”.  Just as people have  a reason to write a song, I think my father had very specific reasons to sing the songs he did.  This I know: these two songs best sum up what he taught me.

In Times Like These

In times like these, you need a Savior,
In times like these, you need an anchor;
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

This Rock is Jesus, Yes, He’s the One
The Rock is Jesus, the only One!
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor hold and grips the Solid Rock.

In times like these, you need the Bible,
In times like these, O be not idle!
Be very sure, be very sure,
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock.

In times like these, I have a Savior,
In times like these, I have an anchor,
I’m very sure, I’m very sure,
My anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock.

The King of Love My Shepherd Is

With a few decades now behind me as a church musician, I have attended, played and/or sung for many funerals and memorial services.  Time and time again I have seen people turn to Psalm 23 for comfort in time of loss.  Whenever I hear Psalm 23, I am reminded of a very specific time and place.

Have you ever had something happen in a way that there was no doubt in your mind but that it happened exactly the way it was supposed to?  Let me tell you about a time a few years ago when it happened to me.  I wanted to attend a funeral, but there was a problem.  The gentleman who died was Jewish, and the funeral was on a Sunday morning.  I was the Director of Music for a Presbyterian church, and could not find a substitute musician on such short notice.  As much as I felt I needed be at that funeral, there was no way I could make it happen.

Our Sunday school met before the worship service, and I was teaching the youth class.  Just moments before class was dismissed, the electricity went out.  Coffee fellowship time came and went with plenty of fellowship, but no coffee or electricity. When it came time for church to begin, we were still without  lights, air conditioning, and of particular interest to me, organ and (digital) piano.    The leadership decided that the very capable choir director would lead the singing a cappella that morning.  Under these very unique circumstances, I asked the pastor if I could be excused to attend the funeral.  At first he said no, then later reluctantly agreed.  I left before he changed his mind again…but was concerned what his reaction would be if the electricity came back on and I wasn’t there.

The man who had died was well-known and much-loved in the community.  There were many faiths represented by the great number of  people in attendance.  As the rituals unfolded, the officiating rabbi explained them in a way that included everyone, and there was great sense of unity.  What happened near the end of the service, however, made the strongest impression on me.  Each of us stepped out of our differing beliefs and traditions, and recited Psalm 23 as one voice.

All of us.  All of us together….saying the same words, with the same cadence, the same familiarity, the same reverence, each one receiving comfort from God’s word, both individually and as a single body of believers.

Henry Baker, an Anglican minister, wrote a paraphrase of Psalm 23 that has come down to us as The King of Love My Shepherd Is.  Baker was well-known for writing, translating and composing hymns.  He was Editor-in-Chief of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) which sold over 60 million copies.  He included this hymn in the appendix.  Evidence of the hymn’s enduring and universal truths, one source says it has appeared in 535 different hymnals. It was sung at the 1997 funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, in Westminster Abbey.   Although the text has been used with different tunes, it is most often associated with the lovely Irish melody ST. COLUMBA.

Tradition says that as Sir Henry Baker lay dying his final words were those of the 3rd stanza: “Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed, but yet in love he sought me; and on his shoulder gently laid, and home, rejoicing, brought me.”

When the Sunday morning funeral was over, I drove back to the Presbyterian church, a little nervous to find whether or not the electricity was back on, and expecting to find an empty parking lot.  A couple of cars were still there.   Across the street sat a utility truck.  I parked my car, went in, and saw the lights on.  Oh, no! I found someone and nervously asked if the lights had come back on during the church service.  “No,” he said.  “They just came back on a few minutes ago, after church let out.  But it’s the craziest thing,” he continued, shaking his head.  “No one else in the neighborhood had any outages.  It was just a fluke thing.  Only this building lost electricity! Can you imagine that?”

I smiled, and I think God did, too.

The King of Love My Shepherd Is

The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never,
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul He leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow,
With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And O what transport of delight
From Thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever.

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