Monday, December 1, 2014


Most Sundays I skip the main service with its contemporary worship music, opting instead to sit with the little old ladies in the chapel where we sing traditional hymns.  Yesterday morning, however, I sat in the auditorium where I could fully experience the gospel of Legacy Five.  Why I looked so forward to their performance I do not know, as this was the first time I had heard their music.

While the rest of the congregation focused their attention on the vocal harmony, my ear was tuned to the piano.  My eyes were drawn to Trey Ivey, a young man playing with amazing ease.  At times, I had the impression that his hands were working in a mechanical way, as though he were resisting the impulse to jazz it up a bit.  Early in the performance, his body was fairly still and he maintained a pleasant but fairly nondescript facial expression.  By the end, his body swayed and emotion played across his face.  He seemed to be infused with energy as the tempo increased.  There seemed to be more trills as time passed, and I wondered whether he ever played the same piece exactly the same.  He was not just making music with his instrument.  He was living through it!

I found myself holding my hands over my heart, as though to capture the warmth spreading from within.  Goose flesh spread over my arms, legs and back.  Tears were close at hand, though I could not have told you why.  I was simply enraptured as I recognized a talent that I have not encountered in the 21 years since my father died.  I felt that I was a child again, watching my dear daddy play his beloved organ.  I could sit there for hours just watching and listening!  In fact, the night that electric organ was delivered, our entire family did just that.

Without formal training, my father had never learned or desired to still his body as he played.  He, too, ceased to be a piano or organ player.  After a few bars of any song, he was one with his instrument.  He would sway this way and lean that way, seemingly leaping from one end of the bench to the other as his feet worked the pedals.  His hands and feet had a life of their own, and he never played a song exactly the same twice!  

I recalled the stories I'd heard as a child.  Stories of Gordon Doty, the musical prodigy.  I remember my grandmother telling me that they learned of his talent when one day, at a young age and with no training, my dad sat down at the old pump organ in the parlor and started playing.  Nobody but my dad ever could coax a note out of that beast!

My dad told me about how he had learned to play the organ by sitting on a bench and working the foot pedals while his mentor worked the keys.  He had no formal training to speak of.  The training he did receive was less than what the average middle class family could provide a child of average ability today.  But my father was blessed with far greater than average ability, and his mother with far less than a middle class income.  He was also quite hard of hearing, almost completely deaf in one ear and with moderate hearing loss in the other.  His early experience with hearing aids had been quite negative, and so he went through life hearing very little.  He was superb at lip reading, and so most people never knew the extent of the impairment.  I used to wonder quite often where life would have taken my dad if he had been born 30 years later.

One of my favorite stories from my father's childhood was about the time he was uninvited to play for church because he was jazzing up the music too much.  (My dad told some tall tales, but I always believed that one because I would frequently lose all track of the melody as I let myself be drawn into what my dad was playing.)  As the story goes, the only person to play in his absence was the pastor's wife, and her piano skills were rather elementary.  Therefore, after a period of time that was considered to be enough punishment (of the congregation!), my father was asked to resume playing for church.  He was asked not to jazz it up so much, and he was inclined to agree just to gain access to play again.  Until the next time someone complained about his fancy playing and it was time for him to take another break.

As I sit with these memories, it occurs to me that it has been a very long time since I have existed within them.  I certainly have not shared them with my children.  Today I felt my father's presence more keenly than I have in nearly 20 years.  It is time to introduce my children to their grandfather as more than a shadowy, distant relative.  I have no recordings of my father's voice or his music, but now I know where to find something reasonably close.

For a taste of the music that took me back, you can watch yesterday's performance for yourself.  If you close your eyes, you may just  hear my dad's fingers tickling those ivory keys!

Legacy Five at The People's Church