In the living room of the modest Dotterer home that cool, autumn evening, I sat across from 55-year-old Ken, listening to him tell me about singing in his church choir. His words were slow, soft and labored. “Sometimes I arrive for rehearsals on Thursday nights feeling about a zero on a scale of one to ten, but when we finish rehearsing," he said, his face filling with light, "I’m always at a ten.”
Ken was struggling with cancer. The choir of the Lancaster Church of the Brethren loved him dearly and had chosen to honor him by commissioning an anthem. He didn’t have a favorite scripture to recommend to me; he just loved to sing. And as I sat there looking deeply into his face, seeing his pain and suffering melt into a kind of oblivion as he talked about the joy of singing, Psalm 63 rose up in my heart and laid claim to the central theme of this piece.
I knew I had to work quickly. Ken was nearing the end of his life. We were all thrilled he was well enough to attend church the Sunday the choir debuted the anthem—just three weeks before he passed away.
Twenty-five years later, when Grove City College Choir came to town and invited me to their concert at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, choir members shared stories with me beforehand about how much the scripture and music had meant to them in their personal lives. I was blown away. It's in moments like these that you realize how small you are in the universe—how your meager loaves and fishes put in the hands of God can call down heaven to bless multitudes. Later, when I heard them sing the piece, I wept like a baby. The piece had been on the market for 25 years, but I had never heard it sung so exquisitely. When I discovered that Dr. Douglas Browne chose the piece as the finale of his final concert, ending his illustrious 32-year career as Grove City College's Director of Choirs, I wept all over again.
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