One of my most pleasant memories of walking the halls of the Bon Air Presbyterian Church (Richmond, VA) is that of hearing the sound of music in the hallways on Wednesday nights.

The church had Wednesday night dinners prepared by volunteer crews working under the guidance of a very part-time kitchen/menu coordinator. The meals were delicious, affordable, and well-attended. There were lots of children running around, older adults sitting in pretty much the same places they’d sat for years, and often a program of some kind that went nicely with dessert.

After the dinners, there were various committee meetings, a more formal study (sometimes related to mission and service opportunities, sometimes a discussion of theological issues), and there were music rehearsals. It’s the music I want to center on as I write today.

Following the after-dinner study, I’d walk down the hall and hear music. Oddly enough, the first rehearsal I’d come to was that of the “big band.” Jazz. Swing. Just for fun. Although I would loved to have heard the band play for worship sometime, this intergenerational group played for the joy of the moment. Led by a veteran of the later edge of the big band era, this band’s personnel included some adults who probably hadn’t had a chance to play their brass instruments since high school or college days, as well as middle and high school youth who added some zest to the old charts.

A bit further down the hall were the handbells. These musicians did play for worship, and, donning their white gloves, they held in their hands only two notes, with other notes (bells) laying on the padded table should their particular tone be required. An old Richmond friend insists that handbells are not technically musical instruments, because each bell only makes one sound. But the set, the community of ringers, several hands blending several octaves…well, that’s music. And the Bon Air handbell choir was a joy to behold. Except that soloist.

One of the teens could stand at a table filled with bells and play a bell composition solo, reaching for this bell and that, ringing one, putting it down to reach for and ring another, sometimes almost racing from one end of the table to the other to retrieve the next note. I usually could not behold it. It really made me nervous as I sensed the seeming desperation of the process. Now, I could close my eyes and enjoy the sound of music, yes…but I could not watch.

And then, further down the hallway was the choir room where the Chancel Choir rehearsed its sometimes challenging, but always inspiring anthems. Bon Air was (and still is) graced with professional music leadership, and, back when the loft was full, the sound was rich, whether we were hearing a classical work or a more contemporary piece.

To make my walk that evening so long ago complete, I can only imagine adding the sound of our resident cellist Francis Church and his then-teenage children, whose string trios and quartets produced a wondrous sound. But they no doubt practiced mostly at home, and wouldn’t have been in the musical mix that Wednesday night after dinner.

When we moved to Vermont, it wasn’t necessarily the church hallways that were filled with music. It was the whole village! I’ve written previously of the musical riches of the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church (in this series of forty reflections for Lent 2015), but I can’t resist sharing here the memory of an afternoon’s walk down the E. Craftsbury Road one summer. The Craftsbury Chamber Players were in the midst of their July-August season. Made up of Julliard faculty, students, and alumni (and I guess, some friends, too), the musicians’ concerts were organized by a resident of East Craftsbury, Mary Anthony Cox, who lived down the road, attended our church, and who commuted to New York City every week to teach ear training at Julliard.

This one afternoon, our village hills were alive with the sound of music (with apologies to the von Trapps who lived in nearby Stowe). Walking from the manse at one end of the village (and this actually happened…it’s not my imagination at work), the first sounds I heard came from the church. A vocalist was at the piano in the sanctuary, warming up. The church windows were open on that hot July day, and her vocalization filled that part of the neighborhood. Across the road, in a home occupied ordinarily only in the summers, came the sound of a pianist rehearsing for her performance later in the week. As the voice from the church grew more faint, the piano provided my walking music as I moved toward the village library. In its off-hours, the library’s books were treated to a cello solo as still another performer rehearsed.

And, we’re not finished yet. Another summer home…another group of musicians, strings this time. I’m no expert here, but I could probably count two or three violins or violas, being played by some youngsters being taught by one of the many pros who found their way to our hills to play in the Hardwick Town House, or over in Burlington at the University of Vermont. Finally, making a turn at Whetstone Brook, one of Mary Anthony’s Steinways resounded through the open screen door, a magnificent sound that could soothe even the souls reposed in the nearby East Craftsbury cemetery.

[I highly suggest that you go to www.craftsburychamberplayers.org/ and read about their outstanding summer series.]

We were privileged to have occasional guest artists from the chamber players enrich our Sunday morning music at the East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church. What a surprise it must have been for a visitor to come to that country church on a summer Sunday, settle into a pew, and hear Julliard musicians playing the prelude. And then I had to preach. Sigh.

Praise God from whom all musical blessings flow.

Kind of wish I’d practiced that trombone more back in eighth grade.

Next, adventures in a nursing home.

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