Last evening, I attended a dinner for the choirs at Grace Church and their families. It was a gathering in honor of Dr. Neil Harmon, Grace’s director of music for the last 19 years (!), who will be leaving us in a matter of weeks. As we gathered last night, I kept thinking about all the people that have been blessed by Neil’s work. It’s rare to find someone who is equally gifted at all aspects of this type of job—choral conducting, handbells, composing, keyboard playing, working with children—Neil does it all with grace and skill. His humility and kindness are icing on the cake. He will be dearly missed, to say the least.
As we prepare for Neil’s departure and as I read and reread the inscription “For the Director of Music” at the front of so many Psalms these days, I can’t help but think about the role of music in the church and therefore the role of the musician in the church.
Music has the power to deepen faith, to draw us to God.
Some of my earliest musical memories were singing in the children’s choir with Mrs. Judy at Main Street United Methodist Church in Abbeville, South Carolina. My siblings and I later started violin lessons through folks connected to church too, and so I guess you could say my musical life began there. Those musicians made an inexplicable difference in my life. They changed my life’s entire course, in fact. Music was also my entry point into faith, and as I type that, I realize how holy the ground on which we stand is, as we participate in musical offerings on Sunday mornings. What a responsibility—to use our gifts and talents for something so beyond ourselves. It’s almost a miracle, how we musicians are afforded the privilege to help others worship God...in spite of ourselves.
With music’s power, I see how it would be easy to worship the music or the musician instead of their Maker. And that is dangerous, because, as I learned in music school, some of the most heavenly sacred music was written by people who weren’t the most pious. (Bach being the exception of course!) If you’ve seen the movie Amadeus, you’ve gotten a glimpse into the life of Mozart, the composer of the divinely inspired Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618. Even David, the author of so many of the Psalms, was far from perfect. AND YET, God used them. God blessed them even though they didn’t deserve it, and God uses them to bless us. I am so grateful that in spite of our imperfections, we are given musical gifts we can use to God’s glory.
Neil’s ministry at Grace has been a testament to his faith and we are so grateful for his service. And yet, we know that the ways he’s blessed us will not fade after his departure. There is something he leaves behind that will continue to resonate throughout our beautiful sanctuary—he’s reminded us to humbly use our talents to praise God, lift up others, and sing in joy and thanksgiving for all we’ve been given.
Neil, we’ll miss you, and we will continue to “sing and make music in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19) as you have taught us. Thank you for helping us discover and develop our talents.
“Let all that has breath, Praise the Lord” (Psalm 150.)