Joy and Gratitude

25 07 2014

By David Bolton, Independence, Missouri, USA

Browne at organI came home from high school and Mum asked, “Would you like to take organ lessons?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Joy Browne offered to give you free lessons.”

I knew Joy Browne as the 80-year-old who played “Freely, Freely” every Communion Sunday. I appreciated the opportunity and took up Joy’s offer. She coached me through my first experiences with playing hymns. She taught me to look to the text for moments to break a phrase and allow time for the congregation to breathe. She emphasized the importance of playing expressively rather than hitting the keys like a typewriter. Most importantly, she taught me about gratitude and appreciating others.

When I played at church Joy expressed appreciation immediately after the worship. It didn’t matter how well I had played, she always encouraged me. As I started to play regularly I wondered whether Joy would stop, but she thanked me every Sunday I played at Oak Hill Congregation for the rest of her life.

As she reached her 90s Joy had difficulty playing. Her joints swelled with arthritis. Some fingers bent to the side, while others curled downward. Her accuracy suffered, and large chords were now beyond reach. Her family lamented that she spent more time practicing for Christmas than being with them. It became painful for her to play for extended periods.

Not long after, the pastors asked if I would play for a Communion service.

I will always remember her coming to me afterward, just as she always did. Except this time, tears ran down her checks as she said, “I wish I could play like I used to, but I’m so glad you were able to play today.”

Joy passed away January 24, 2010, at age 93.

These days, I frequently play for church. I try my best to express the text of the hymns musically and to encourage others as she encouraged me. And whenever I’m scheduled to play for Communion Sunday, listen for:

Freely, freely
you have received:
freely, freely give.
—“God Forgave My Sin in Jesus’ Name” CCS 627, Carol Owens

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