'Making Music To The Lord'

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Church Organists Are Key To Worship Services

By Joe Foreman, Editor

Ardie Dusenberry and Joyce Raabe share a friendship and a passion.


A passion for music.

“Music is the love of my life,” Dusenberry said earlier this week as she contemplated playing the organ and electric piano at no fewer than five Holy Week services. “The church has always been very important to me and I think music is the backbone of the worship service. You have music when you come into a church and it always kind of just sets the mood.”

Dusenberry, 79, knows a thing or two about setting the mood with music. She’s been playing the organ for 69 years and the piano for 75. She’s regarded as one of Glenwood’s most visible and respected musicians. When she isn’t providing music for worship services at First Baptist Church or Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church, she’s serving as accompanist for high school music students or performing at weddings and funerals.

“I just love it,” Dusenberry said. “I think my love for music stems back to my childhood. My mother (Ila Gould) was very, very active in the music department. She had a very beautiful voice. She used to sing a lot of songs to me and I would just pick them up.”

Dusenberry, a native of Humboldt, Neb., considers her musical talent to be a gift from God, a view shared by Raabe, who has served as the organist at Trinity Lutheran Church for nearly a decade.

“Music is an emotional thing, at least for me it is,” Raabe said. “It enhances the way you feel. We want to worship and we want to express our feelings about thankfulness.

“It’s not a necessity, but it’s here to enhance worship.”

Like Dusenberry, Raabe was introduced to music at a young age by her mother (Dolores Horst) while growing up in Pilger, Neb.

As a youngster, she had no choice but to hang out in the organ loft with her mother on Sunday mornings because in those days, men were required to sit on one side of the church while women sat on the other side.

“Since my mom was up in the balcony playing organ and Dad couldn’t handle all of us on the men’s side, so many times I ended up in the balcony with Mom,” Raabe said. “It was scary. I never wanted to go up there when I was little because you had to go up these very steep stairs through an unlit bell tower to get up to the organ loft.”

Music, Raabe said, has a deep heritage in the Lutheran Church, which was established in the 16th Century by the followers of Martin Luther, regarded not only as a reformer but as a great hymnist of the time period. Luther often used popular music to encourage people to sing.

Raabe points out that music is referenced many times in the Bible.

“The Bible talks about singing, dancing and making music to the Lord,” she said.

Dusenberry and Raabe embrace their service to their respective churches as organists, but agree that most members of their congregations probably don’t have a full comprehension of the commitment the job entails.

For Dusenberry, that’s performing at multiple services every weekend and spending time rehearsing with the choir.

“We usually come about an hour before the service to rehearse,” Dusenberry said. “Then, I play for about 15 minutes as a prelude.”

Raabe said she spends two to three hours a week selecting music for Sunday’s service and another two to three hours rehearsing her music on Friday night or Saturday. Although the pastor selects the hymns for each service, Raabe puts together a 20-minute prelude, offertory music and a postlude that lasts as long as members of the congregation are filing out of the chapel. Timing and appropriateness of style are essential in selecting music, she noted.

“Pastor sends me the service usually at least a week in advance, so you try to match the music to the readings or the theme of the sermon,” Raabe said. “The last song that I play (of the prelude), hopefully, is usually in the same key as the first hymn so that people have that key in their heads.

“The most difficult part is picking appropriate length and style.”

Raabe said she is still getting comfortable with Trinity Lutheran’s new, state-of-the-art, three-manual organ that was delivered to the church from Holland earlier this month. She is grateful, however, to have the organ at her fingertips.

“I really appreciate the congregation and all the donations they gave to come up with this instrument,” she said. “I just think it’s pretty amazing. I’m not really comfortable playing it yet. I’m really nervous about what they (congregation) think.”

Dusenberry and Raabe seldom get a weekend off, but the two organists agree that there is great satisfaction in serving their church through the gift of music.

“One lady in the church always says, ‘Thanks for the music,’ and that means so much,” Raabe said.

The compliments and gestures of goodwill are appreciated as well by Dusenberry.

“My greatest satisfaction from playing is when people come and tell me how much they enjoy it,” Dusenberry said. “The music is my life.”