Nancy Bassett’s fingers immediately dance across the black and white keys as she sits down at the piano at the First United Methodist Church of Marble Falls. Without opening a hymnal or looking at any sheet music, the 94-year-old pianist fills the room with song.
“I don’t know, I just love music,” she said when asked what it was about the piano and organ that has kept her playing for the last 90 years — 86 of those years in churches. Bassett stepped down from playing for her Fellowship Sunday school class in June, where she has lead in musical worship since she and her husband, Kenneth, joined the church in 1993.
“She is such a sweet and delightful person,” said Liz Shelton, the class leader for the past decade. “Music has absolutely been her life. She loves to play, and she loves to share it with others. She’s been such a big part of this class. I don’t know what we’ll do now.”
Bassett began taking lessons when she was 4 years old.
“My mom said I’d just play away,” Basset said.
When she was 8, she began playing at the Polk Street United Methodist Church in Amarillo. Eventually she became one of the church’s pianists and organists.
“I’m 94 now,” Bassett said with emphasis. “That’s 86 years of playing in church. I still play if they ask me.”
Bassett also learned how to play the organ, taking lessons from Mary Ruth McCulley an organ teacher at West Texas State College and organist at Polk Street UMC. She learned on one of the best, she said, an organ “like you’d see with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.”
Bassett began sharing her love of the piano by also giving lessons. She taught for at least 30 years with students coming by her home to tickle the ivories. Many kept at it for years. One former student even popped up on Bassett’s TV screen one day playing as part of a Billy Graham program.
The Bassetts moved to the Highland Lakes in 1993 to be closer to their daughter who lives in Austin. (Bassett said Austin was much too big of a city for her to live in.) They joined Marble Falls FUMC and have been attending the church ever since. They also found a home within the Fellowship class, a group of fellow followers of Christ looking to further their faith journey. With her piano skills, Bassett easily took up the role as the class pianist. The Fellowship class incorporates a good deal of music into their weekly lesson.
The Fellowship class uses music from the Cokesbury hymnal to enhance the Bible lessons.
“She’d pick the hymns out for the lesson, and she’d have a sheet for me, the person leading the music, and probably one more copy just in case,” Shelton said. “And she played the music.”
After decades of playing in Methodist churches, predominantly using the Cokesbury hymnal, Bassett didn’t always need the sheet music or hymnal.
“I have them all up here,” she said with a grin as she pointed to her head.
Bassett also plays at local retirement centers and nursing homes, delivering God’s message through her fingers. She lives as the Gospel proclaims, sharing the Good News, Shelton said.
“She’s so amazing,” Shelton continued. “Nancy just wanted to play the piano for us or for those at the (retirement centers). Music is a big part of church and worshipping, and Nancy, she wanted to share that with everyone.”
In June the Fellowship class threw her a party, celebrating her dedication to music and the church.
“She’s not going to be easy to replace,” Shelton said with a laugh. “You just can’t replace someone like Nancy.”