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Highland Lakes church organists play from the heart


Church organists

Organist Anne Chamberlain plays the middle manual, or keyboard, of the organ at Highland Lakes United Methodist Church in Kingsland. Chamberlain has undergone carpal tunnel surgery, but that has not stopped the music. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

Quiet conversations fall silent as the organist begins the prelude, a song that sets the mood for Sunday morning worship at The Church at Horseshoe Bay. After a few words from the pastor and an opening prayer, notes in forte fill the sanctuary, causing congregants to sit up a little straighter and reach for their hymnals. At fortissimo, choir and congregation sing out as one: “There is within my heart a melody …”

That melody contains the sounds of a French horn, a flute, and a harp, but none of those instruments are present. They are all part of the organ’s repertoire, adding to the rising volume that crescendos throughout the congregation.

“It’s like they’re walking into heaven,” said organist John Morris, who plays what he calls “the king of instruments” for the church overlooking Lake LBJ.

Music historians call the organ one of the most complex of all instruments with its multiple keyboards, collection of knobs, and forest of foot pedals. Learning to play one is so difficult that it makes finding someone to do it a challenge for churches with organs.

Anne Chamberlain, the organist at Highland Lakes United Methodist Church in Buchanan Dam, was a choir member at the church, which had an instrument but no maestro. A piano major at the University of North Texas, she had taken a class on the organ but considered herself a pianist. Her church asked her to consider otherwise.

Church organists

Organist John Morris of The Church at Horseshoe Bay plays to ‘God’s magnificence’ as seen from the instrument’s perch near the windows of the sanctuary. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

Together with the piano, played by another congregant, the organ becomes an intimate piece of Sunday morning worship at the Buchanan Dam church.

“It’s a thread that moves throughout the service,” she said. “Your ministers are drawing the congregation into it.”

Both Chamberlain and Morris suffer from physical ailments that make playing the organ painful. Morris takes medication for rheumatoid arthritis. Chamberlain has undergone carpal tunnel surgery. Despite the difficulties, however, they plan to continue to use their talents to glorify God.

“I’m not the best organist around, but it’s very emotional and very spiritual for me,” Morris said about playing. “A lot of times, I get lost in what I’m doing. I find myself with chillbumps. It’s a calling to me, always has been.”

“That’s why we do it,” Chamberlain said. “When you see it reach them, to make that music together, to those people out there, you feel gratified. You’re drawing them closer to Christ and the magnificence of God.”

Music memories play in Chamberlain’s head as she recalls the sounds of the organ played at her husband’s funeral.

“Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

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