I have taken piano lessons since I was six years old. In my opinion, that is a bit young to start but the reason my folks started me so young is the fact that I came home from church one Sunday and sat down and started picking out the notes of the songs we’d just sung in church. My mom, who was the church pianist, asked me “Dawn, how do you know what notes to play?” My reply: “I don’t know; I just hear it.” I’m so thankful they started me in piano lessons because had I not learned how to read the music notes, count rhythms, etc., my skills would be limited.
When I was about 9 or 10, my dad was a pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church, down near Logansport, La. On Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, a few of us girls (Rhonda May, Kaylan McFadden and Janie Henderson) would take turns playing the hymns. It was great practice for us and we learned some great tips along the way from ladies like Mrs. Una Bagley. She taught us “piano players don’t like sharps, so if you get to a song with three sharps, change it to four flats and if it’s in four sharps, change it to three flats.” I look back now and realize they’re all accidentals, but it’s a state of mind, I suppose.
When we were members at Bethany Baptist, we would have “Favorite Hymn Night” and I was usually the pianist who would play.
There are some songs you never forget: “Whispering Hope” and “No, Never Alone”. These songs were very long—two full pages in the hymnal. Then there were the hymns that were long and you really had to watch the director who was leading because there were certain spots when the “song leader” (old term for worship leader) would hold notes until the cows came home or you ran out of breath, whichever came first. Examples: “Saved, Saved”- “Life now is sweet and my joy is complete for I’m saved! Saved! Saved!” The last line of this song could easily take upward of one minute. “Love Lifted Me’- “When nothing else could help...Love...Lifted...Me.” Again, easily a one minute or more last line.
Then, there were songs that had four to five verses and you couldn’t leave any of them out; you needed to sing them all: “Are You Washed In The Blood?”, “Power In The Blood”, “There Is A Fountain”. If you sung these hymns, you sung every verse, no questioning it, either.
I went with my grandmother (Mamaw) to Atkins, Arkansas once and they had a hymn singing at the church up there where my aunts and uncles attended. These were simple, mountain folks. My mom’s side of the family is very musical, so I loved hearing Aunt Delma sing soprano, Aunt Mary Jane sing alto and Uncle Lloyd sing bass. They didn’t read music (not even shaped notes); they just “heard it” and sang what they heard. (Guess I know where I got the “I just hear it” from).
I’ve been singing a lot of hymns in my heart lately. Don’t get me wrong; I love a lot of the newer gospel music that is around these days, but to me, when you’re feeling like you need a little “pick me up”, those hymns of old can do the trick. So, if you’re going through a rough patch or just want to put a smile in your heart (which, hopefully, will transfer to your face), try closing your eyes and thinking back on the hymns that meant a lot to you when you were growing up.
My dad’s favorite hymn is hard to beat: “What a friend we have in Jesus- All our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry......everything to God in prayer.”