The Gift

My mother could play piano. Let me rephrase. My mother could pick out hymns on the piano. I have no earthly idea how she learned to do it because she never mentioned a teacher….. I suspect, knowing her, she taught herself. She loved music. She appreciated music. She valued music (and poetry, literature,grammar, art… and how to correctly set a table.). All of which seem sadly to have become a lost art.

But that’s a story for another day.

My daddy was a singer. I often joke that he never sang the correct words but he wouldn’t wear his glasses and I’m afraid that I’m following in those muddled word footsteps myself these days sans glasses. I try though.

What you need to know is that daddy learned to sing because back in those days (long, long ago)….churches would have “singing schools” where a traveling musician would spend a few days and nights teaching hymn singing. Sight-reading was a big part of this instruction. The shaped note method was used (look it up) and daddy was really, really good at it! Each note had a specific shape (square, triangle etc.,) and represented “do”. Daddy could pick up a hymnal and sight-read anything. It was amazing.

And he taught me to count 12/8

Since my parents were 42 when I was born these stories have been passed down to me. Growing up I just knew that Daddy sang bass in the First Baptist Church quartet and would dance in front of the tv during the bluegrass portion of Hee Haw. I knew that mother would always host and provide food when the quartet needed to rehearse and she loved every episode of The Lawrence Welk Show.

Because of them…..the gift

All of us had piano lessons (except Mike who played the trombone and used it to punch the ceiling tile in his bedroom.). JoKay, Becky and I were given lessons. JoKay and Becky by Mrs. Sanders and me by Mrs. McClelland. As many of you already know, JoKay was 14 years older than me and Becky 10. By the time I rolled around they had set the standard. Becky played piano but her gift was voice. Hers was beautiful. JoKay’s gift was piano…and she could play anything… I remember her playing “Autumn Leaves” and classical pieces while I pretended to be a ballerina, dancing in the living room. (I had an awesome imagination, ha)…..

I began piano in second grade. Mother or JoKay and Becky faithfully drove me the 20 miles to Thayer for lessons with dear Mrs. McClelland who was always dressed in a lovely ensemble with a tight waist, heels and hose. She had played for Paderewski and loved to tell stories of this honor. I LOVED HER. She taught from both the Schaum and Thompson books but also allowed me to bring a hymnal and we worked a different hymn each week.

What a gift, a sacrificial gift, from mother and daddy

When I was a junior in high school my cousin Bill Wheeler (the Principal) decided I should be in the county Junior Miss pageant (over mother’s objection) and I won with a piano solo as my talent. When headed to St. Louis and the state pageant I had to come up with something a bit more creative. Thanks to Wilma McMurtrey, Karen Perkins and Carlene Williams my talent became a medley of what music meant in my life. School accompanist, church accompanist, piano instructor and classical soloist. And I won the talent. My entire family was in attendance, even Granny Smith.

A gift.

I knew very little about voice and my lessons were a little light on technique so when I auditioned for a scholarship at William Woods it was a MIRACLE that they accepted me. Again a gift….Because I had fallen in love with William Woods College during Girls State I was on a scholarship hunt. William Woods was a private college and the money just wasn’t there. Mother said if I could get enough scholarship money to make the cost equal to Missouri State (then called SMS and where she, JoKay and Becky attended) I could go.

Thanks to music it happened.

Another gift.

So….. all that history is probably more than you bargained for wasn’t it?

This afternoon I reflect on how this gift of music has affected my life…. let’s see..

  • A 36 year career in public school music education
  • Students I loved and still love
  • Performances that made me cry happy, emotional tears
  • Listening to Chase play guitar every week at church
  • Remembering Carter trying out for all-region the morning after he quarterbacked the Hurricane to a loss to West Memphis (sorry Carter) and making first chair
  • Professional friends from Jonesboro, the state of Arkansas and surrounding states…all connected because of our love of the gift of music
  • Proudly teaching songs that contained scripture, beautiful poetry and history. Making students FEEL in their souls the pain of slavery, the Holocaust, American history and more.

So where’s my gift today. A 63 year old retiree and cancer patient?

Such an easy question. I revel in the accessibility of music provided by today’s technology. With the touch of the computer screen I can talk a walk back in time listening to artists like Simon and Garfunkel, Ella Fitzgerald…..or I can enjoy the amazing music of Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton or the amazing Adele. I can worship with CeCe Winans or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I’ve never been a musical snob so my playlists are eclectic to say the least. I have a funeral list if you need it, ha. Of course it might not be what you expect.

Since I have the pleasure of a CT scan and an MRI every 3 months I have discovered music is a crucial gift while spending time in the TUBES. If you’ve had these tests you understand, ha. I mostly sing hymns in my mind. I remember the words perfectly except the poor third verses that we always ignored for some unknown reason, ha. No offense to contemporary Christian music (I actually love most of it) but it’s always the hymns I remember and sing in my head when I’m there.

I also spend a couple of hours getting chemo every 3 weeks that are made tolerable and even enjoyable because of a great set of headphones and a cell phone. TECHNOLOGY people.

The Gift.


What would life my life be without it? I can’t fathom it. Today, as I’m attempting to share my thoughts, I’m listening to a “chill” playlist on Apple Music that has included Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor and Gordon Lightfoot…ha…

Thank you to my mother and daddy for making certain music was an important part of my life as a child. Thank you to Mrs. McClelland for those lessons, Thank you to Mrs. Gum who I adored. Thank you for introducing me to the band and the flute. Thank you to Mrs. Bull who loved band and caused me to love it too. Thank you to Mr. Heiskell who thought I could sing and taught me to love harmony while singing in choir…… Thank you to Chris and Burt Allen who taught me piano and choir while at William Woods. Thank you to Christy Clary and Cindy Winsky who taught me how fun music could be, even singing at a funeral director’s convention for tips. Thank you to Al Skoog to taught me to passionately sing the lyric….

And finally, thank you to all my professional friends who love the gift of music as much as I do….. And to all the amateurs who do too!! And to the listeners and those who appreciate every note, every lyric… I beg you to share this gift with future generations. Choir, Band, Piano….. I swear you’ll make them better people. It’s the gift of a lifetime, enriching every life….

And…. If you doubt the existence of God…. well, I can’t believe you love the gift of music. It sets us apart and transcends…..taking us away from, or maybe through, pain or helping us to celebrate what we can’t otherwise express. God gave us this gift…. I just know he did.

Gotta go, Joni Mitchell just started to sing.

Published by swcall58

I'm a wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother....a retired choral director living with stage 4 lung cancer. My faith sustains me and my writing is therapy. Day by Day.

2 thoughts on “The Gift

  1. Beautiful tribute to your gifts!! I am also grateful to my mother for giving me piano lessons wherever we were stationed. And I remember playing shape notes at New Salem but had no idea it was also a sight-reading method until I was an adult! I even have one of those old hymnals somewhere. Bonnie and Josiah are musical but Erin and Drew lean more to the career professional category. They all had lessons tho! If they still didn’t like it after a year, I let them discontinue. Josiah is amazing on guitar and Bonnie sings but also plays piano amd has taught herself guitar. Great article!


  2. I too have to thank my mother for making me go to the very first community ensemble -The Blue Notes”-when I was 12 years old!! I was hooked after one session! I sang alto and then later on-I sang soprano! I loved every minute of choir and ensemble-in both school and church! I love it all!
    I was fortunate enough to sing with the Arkansas College Lassies and toured Europe when I was 18 with a USO show in 1969! Music is now and always has been a most important part of my life! I get it!!!


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