Tag Archives: #reminiscences

#Reminiscences: first musical memories

With today’s blog entry, I’m starting a series of reminiscences, based on some prompts I’ve bene reading.


I grew up singing in church.  That much I know for certain.

My mother couldn’t carry a tune if she tried.  My father sang in key, but when notes got too high, he’d plop down an octave.  His singing range was limited.  His rhythm, however, was flawless, as befits someone who played drums growing up.

I remember going to the organ console after church services, and watching the organist.  This would have been at Calvary Baptist in Columbia, and then at Fifth Street Baptist in Hannibal.  At some point in Hannibal, I got to push the cancel button after the postlude was complete, and watch all those pistons return to their off position.

In Hannibal, my music teacher was a Mrs. Froman.  Music classes at Mark Twain Elementary were held in the homeroom classroom, rather than a separate music classroom.

We moved to Hannibal as I started first grade.  At some subsequent point, my parents gifted me with a Magnus chord organ.  I was probably in second grade.  I taught myself how to play “Long, long ago.” This was my first keyboard experience that I can remember.

Image result for magnus chord organ

But G-ma Blocher owned a massive old upright grand piano, and I probably banged on that at some point.

There was also most likely children’s choir at church, but I have no clear memory.

We moved to Lee’s Summit as I started the last quarter of fourth grade.  There I found

  • Mrs. Verna Boten (now Dr. Verna Brummett), the music teacher at Pleasant Lea Elementary School.  She had her own classroom!  And she noticed my musical ability right away.
  • Vance Riffie, who was not only the high school choral teacher, but also Minister of Music at First Baptist Church, who also led the 4th/5th/6th-grade children’s choir.  And I learned from him how to read music on the staff, and how pitches relate to one another.
  • And beginning a few months later in fifth grade, the initial ability to play a brass instrument, initially cornet, and then French horn.  Russ Berlin was the instrumental band director at Pleasant Lea.

These are my earliest musical memories.

Piano lessons came later, starting in 6th or 7th grade.

I grew up singing.  And I grew up staring at keyboard instruments until I was old enough to play them, and my parents had enough money to provide for lessons.

By the way, Mr. Riffie is long gone.  Dr. Brummett and Mr. Berlin are still around, and I see Russ occasionally at MMEA.  Both attended my Hall of Fame induction five years ago.


Reminiscences: a note

This precious note was in my father’s files:

JoAnne Howard had lost her husband just a few months before my mother died. JoAnne sang at my mother’s funeral, as she had at countless funerals before.

The funeral home paid her, of course, but JoAnne returned the money to my father with this note.

Jo’s family had been intertwined with ours from our first days in Lee’s Summit. Her youngest son, Greg, was my best friend growing up.

Flash forward: 18 months after Mom’s death, my father returned to the USA from Argentina on a terminal furlough.

And a few months later this lonely man was courting JoAnne Howard.

They were married — this widow and widower — in May 2000, barely nine months after my father began his final furlough, and just a week after he officially retired as a missionary.

That marriage lasted more than 17 years until his death last December.

Reminiscences: moving to Kansas

Found in my father’s belongings: this postcard, addressed to my grandmother, giving my new address in Kansas when I moved there on January 2, 1997.

The “choking back tears” reference proved false. My three years at KU, and most of that also living in Lawrence, were the single best three years of my life to date.

Reminiscences: a new job

This clipping from the local Blue Springs newspaper announces my appointment in 1993 to the adjunct faculty at Graceland College in Iowa. I taught part-time there for three years, whilst also teaching at the local community college and at the University of Central Missouri (as lecturer in music).

Reminiscences: senior photo

In my father’s belongings was this Olan Mills photo from my senior year of college at Southwest Baptist University:

I look very much the conservative, which I was at the time.

And with my widow’s peaks growing more prominent, I was parting my hair closer and closer to the crown.

Reminiscences: the bill

In my father’s belongings were two documents related to my birth in 1961.

I was born at Southern Baptist Hospital in New Orleans. The total hospital bill was $113.45, which included four nights in a semi-private room (for my mother, of course) and $30 for the delivery room charge.

Care to know how crazy our health-care costs are now? That $113.45 in 1961 is still less than $1000 in today’s dollars!