That I Somehow Made a Difference

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small.

The beginning of  my faith life was formed out of music.  The music came from my church choir.  The church choir was led by an enthusiastic, faithful musician named Irv Martin.  When I was in junior high on Tuesday nights I would sing in a choir. I never skipped. I’m sure it was because of Irv and his kindness and his love of music that kept me coming back every week. Those melodies and lyrics have remained in my soul and my long-term memory my entire life.

Dona Nobis Pacem

Irv would draw us into the music and we would forget that we were supposed to be cool teenagers and we would sing with joy and energy.  Guys and girls formed a community in the choir loft. This was before the term “contemporary music” and the age of the Worship Wars.  We even sang hymns.

Praise Ye  the Lord the Almighty the King of Creation.

Finding a choir director that can  balance expression of faith and musical expertise  is a rare find. Church musicians are, well musicians.  They care about intonation and balance and might even consider what they are doing to be a performance. It’s hard to find a choir director who can express their faith, while at the same time focus on musicianship.  Irv struck that balance between minister and musician. He loved God.  He loved expressing his love of God through music and he loved compelling his choirs to express the love of God through the expression of music. It’s because of Irv that I fell in love with God and music. His enthusiasm was infectious.

You shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace. The mountains and the hills will spring forth before you.

Irv was my confirmation sponsor.  While I was going through the confirmation process, he would pick me up at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday mornings, take me out to breakfast and talk to me about faith and social issues of the day. Above all, he listened, he prayed for me and with me.

Oh sing to the Lord a new song.

Irv was my first voice teacher.  In high school I wanted to perform in musicals more than anything.  Singing was not a gift that came naturally to me. Irv knew I loved to sing and that was enough for him. Before an audition I would go to his house and he would help me prepare my solo. He’d play the piano and help me with my range and breath.

You’ve got to light up my load. If I’m to carry this heavy load, you have to lighten my load with sunshine.

Irv died today.  He had Alzheimer’s Disease. I can’t believe he’s gone and I never got the chance to thank him. I never got the chance to thank him for his kindness to a teenager who loved music and had the desire to sing well.  I never got the chance to thank him for sharing his faith with me and for his patient listening as I shared my faith with him.  I never got a chance to thank him for being faithful to the baptismal covenant and for his  generosity.  I never got a chance to thank him for being my friend.

In 1993, the Reverend Fred Rogers was asked to speak at the National Press Club.  Mr. Rogers began by taking out his pocket watch and announcing that he wanted to start his speech with two minutes of silence during which he invited each person present to “remember people in their past—parents, teachers, coaches, friends, and others—who had made it possible for them to accomplish so much.”  Irv Martin was that person for me.

He was the first adult, other than my parents, in my balcony.

Do you know about balcony people?

They are people whom we have known or known only through stories about them or their writing or philosophies who have made us understand the presence of God. Whenever in life you and I feel timid, needy, fumbling, mistaken or even failed, our basement people voices say, “I told you it wouldn’t work. I knew you couldn’t do it. You’ll never amount to anything.” But our balcony people are those whose voices we hear in our hearts and our prayers and often times if we are blessed, in our own ears. Our balcony people say, particularly in the bleakest and most anxious of moments, “Go for it. You can do it. You can make it. You’re made from good stock.”   Our balcony people also protect us from trying to go life alone.  They never leave us. They leave an imprint on our souls.

Think for a few seconds, who are people in your balcony?

If they are still living, go find them and thank them.

When our church choir went on tour, we always closed with this song.  It’s my favorite. I sing it to my children. I sing it when I need to remember that God never leaves my side.  It’s because of Irv, that this song stays with me.

I hope a choir of angels has greeted him with it:

“Go ye now in peace and know that the love of God will guide you.
Feel his presence here beside you, showing you the way.
In your time of trouble when hurt and despair are there to grieve you,
Know that the Lord will never leave you, He will bring you courage.
Know that the God who sent His Son to die that you might live, 
Will never leave you lost and alone in His beloved world.
Go ye now in peace.
Go ye now in peace.
Go ye now in peace.”

Joyce Elaine Eilers

Thank you, Irv.

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  1. You put in words exactly how I , also, feel about Irv. I, too, still hear all those songs in my head and I also sang them to my children. Those years with Irv are some of the strongest rocks in my foundations of faith. Thank you for writing this.

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