Nursing Home Performance

A couple of weeks ago the children’s choir sang in church. Their rendition of “Beautiful Savior” immediately took me back to a Sunday afternoon in Jamestown, North Dakota. Those of you who know me today might be surprised to hear that I was playing a Hammond console organ in the chapel of a nursing home accompanying my good friend Wes’ older sister Lynne T.

Guy, channeling Elvis

Guy, channeling Elvis

You may remember my love of music, as I talked in an earlier post about my record collection. Two of my best friends owned guitars and were learning to play them. Dances at the KC hall and other places filled our weekends, and Sundays in church I loved listening to the pipe organ. I loved music, and desperately wanted to develop whatever talent I had. Maybe I could buy something that would help?

There were two record shops in Jamestown. Marguerite’s, and a smaller one whose name escapes me now. Marguerite’s sold guitars, amps and instruments to every garage band in the state. There wasn’t a better place in town for the musician.

The little store sold Lowrey organs. (Mark remembers that the store was named Lowrey, too.) Little electric console jobs that sounded cheap, especially compared to the standard of the day, Hammond. The best part about them was that I could afford to rent one, according to the clerk. Soon enough, the delivery truck showed up at our house and I was learning to play the organ on my own. I didn’t have the money to afford lessons, nor did I have the sense to know they were necessary.

By Stefan from Roscommon, United States (My New (Old) Organ  Uploaded by shoulder-synth) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Lowrey electronic organ

My best friend Mark had a twelve string Martin guitar that he bought from Marguerite’s for $240. (That’s in 1967 dollars.) Mark and John brought their guitars over and we had a band. Oh, joy! We made music. To be more precise, they made music and I played along. There was a third thing missing from my repertoire besides money and common sense. I didn’t recognize it then, but every good musician has innate musical talent. Judy has it, my kids and grand kids have it. Neither my mother nor I had even the slightest talent. Since my Lowrey organ days at least I’ve taught myself to recognize fine music and musical talent.

The organ came with a simple book of standards to give the complete novice an idea of what the instrument could do. I managed to learn at least one of them. Almost. Somehow Lynne heard that I knew “Beautiful Savior” and she asked if I could accompany her Sunday afternoon, as her regular accompanist couldn’t be there. Only the tiniest bit over-confident, I said sure, I can do that.

My confidence evaporated before the end of the first verse. I had to play three more. The old folks loved us, but let’s just say that I don’t remember Lynne ever talking to me again.

Luther College

Mark with his 12 string Martin in 1968.

Since then I’ve tried to learn a lot of instruments. Tambourine, guitar, piano, dulcimer, even singing. When we first got our piano, I bought a simple version of the chart for one of my favorite classical pieces. Weeks later I was able to play through the first couple of bars. I mastered at least three chords on the guitar and piano. C, F, and G. Now if I could get some rhythm I would have a chance. Maybe a snowball’s chance. Maybe mastered isn’t the right word?

Years of listening to Judy practice, watching the kids play piano, going to concerts and listening to the radio have honed my ear enough to know good music. I’m now fully aware of the range of talent in the musical world. The difference between a Beatles performance and a local garage band at the town festival are obvious to me. At least I’m able to enjoy both, but knowing the difference helps me appreciate both.

As I write this it comes to mind that many of my friends are musicians, professional and amateur. Their appreciation of music, their skill on a stage, and their ability to teach me to appreciate a good performance give me joy every time I hear the music. Those people have taught me so much.

Some might say that the only musical instrument I can play is the radio. They’d be right. Even though I can play notes, but not the music, music is one of the things I enjoy most about life.

P.S. Mark still has the Martin, John still plays with guitars. I still listen to pipe organs.Grandpa Guy Havelick

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