Tag Archive | pipe organ

Ghostly Tricks


Doris and Mary having a good laugh with Abbey – our best caregiver of all. (About 10 years ago)

Over the past 14 years, Mim and I have cared for more than twenty elderly people who have lived with us in our home, usually one or two residents at a time. Almost all of them have lived out their last days with us. Some of them lived with us for just a few days, some a few months, and some a few years. We have been honored to have cared for them as they journeyed from this life into the next life.

Today is All Saints Day, a day to remember each one of them, along with all the other people who have been close to us throughout our lives, and who are no longer with us on earth.


Mim helping Doris get dressed up for Halloween.

One of our former residents, Doris, has actually been on my mind a lot lately. Doris lived with us almost four years, and she and her family became close members of our extended assisted living family.

Doris had a good sense of humor and liked to joke around with people. She often warned us that she was going to come back and haunt us after she died. Well, she’s come back. Really! I didn’t want to believe that she would follow through on her joking threat, but I can’t think of any other explanation for what has happened.

Several months ago I replaced my 5-year-old HP laptop with my first Apple product, a MacBook. The biggest challenge I had with my transition into the Mac world was getting my big fancy Konica Minolta laser printer/copier to work with the Mac. After hours of trial and error plus long phone calls to Apple Support, I finally was able to download a third-party printer driver that works pretty well – not perfectly, but at least I can print most documents.

A couple days after I finally got the printer working, I tried to boot it up one morning, and it was completely dead. I tried everything I could think of – with no success. I finally placed a service call with Konica Minolta to have them come out to fix it. The printer appeared to be completely dead. Not even the copier function would work.


My Konica Minolta printer/copier is an excellent color laser printer, but it’s big and heavy.

This printer/copier is a large, heavy, floor model – something I don’t move around very often when I clean house. But I decided to do a little cleaning that day so my office would look better for the Konica Minolta repairman. I tugged the printer in one direction, then the other, to “walk” it away from the wall so that I could vacuum behind it. I couldn’t believe what I saw! The printer cord was plugged into a surge protector/power strip, and the power strip was not plugged into the wall outlet. It was plugged into itself! I called Mim over to take a look. She was as shocked as I was. I unplugged the power strip from itself, plugged it into the wall outlet, turned the printer/copier on, and it worked just fine. I immediately called Konica Minolta to cancel the service call.

img_1600Mim and I tried our hardest to figure out how that could have happened. Did one of us sleep-walk (which we’ve never done as far as we know), struggle to pull the printer/copier away from the wall, mess up the cords, and then shove the printer/copier back in place – all without waking up or making enough noise to wake up the other person or even our dog? Did someone break into the house the previous night while we were asleep and do it as a practical joke? The printer had worked the night before, but not that morning.

Hmmm. Practical joke… The only person we could think of who would do a practical joke like that was the ghost of Doris… In my mind, I’ve given Doris a high-five, and we’ve had a good laugh over it.

I’m sure Doris isn’t the only friendly ghost who has visited our home. The most usual time for ghosts and angels to visit us has been when one of our residents is near death, and a deceased parent, or spouse, or even a stranger comes into the room of the person who is near death. This visitor has come to comfort, or possibly escort the resident to the next life. Mim and I have never seen any of the special visitors ourselves, but several residents have told us about them.

All Saints Day is a time to remember all who have died in Christ, and who are now gathering in heaven to praise God. That includes Doris, even though she may sometimes sneak back down to earth to play a practical joke on us.

The image of a crowd of saints gathering together in heaven is suggested several places in the Bible. For example, Revelation 7:9-10 says:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

In 1864 William Waltham How, an Anglican bishop, wrote a hymn using this image. Forty-two years later, Ralph Vaughan Williams composed a new tune for the hymn, creating one of the most moving and dramatic of all Christian hymns – “For All the Saints.” Here are the first and last verses. (You may want to google the title for the rest of the words.)

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who They by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, of Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For me, the highlight of All Saints Sunday is playing this hymn on a pipe organ and hearing the congregation loudly singing the joyful words. It puts a lump in my throat every year.

On the other end of the musical spectrum is a spiritual that describes the same image – “When the Saints Go Marching In.” There are many different verses for this song, both sacred and secular, the usual first and last verses are:

O when the saints go marching in,
O when the saints go marching in,
O Lord, I want to be in that number
when the saints go marching in.

O when they crown Him Lord of all,
O when they crown Him Lord of all,
O Lord, I want to be in that number
when they crown Him Lord of all.

In Cambridge, my hometown, the “Fight Song” for the high school football and basketball teams is “When the Jays Go Marching In.” (The Cambridge mascot is the blue jay.)

Back to our assisted living residents that I’m remembering today. Helen had been my first grade teacher, and had always been an enthusiastic fan of our school sports teams. (Her husband had been the high school principal and the football coach.)


It was a special privilege to care for my first grade teacher in her last months.

The most fun I ever had playing the organ for a funeral was for Helen’s. For the postlude I played the majestic descending opening line of “For All the Saints” and then played its mirror image in the ascending opening line of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I kept weaving these two tunes together as the people processed out of the church. It was the most fun juxtaposition of very different melodies on the same subject I’ve ever played around with.

I don’t know if Helen thought I was playing a joke on her by making up that postlude, or not, but I’m pretty sure she was smiling along with me and her friends and relatives as they processed out of the church.

Thanks to Doris and Helen and many of our other residents, there’s no doubt in my mind that ghosts and saints still have a sense of humor.


Our “All Saints Wall” where pictures are mounted of all the people we have cared for in our home.

What a Gift!

My kindergarten picture.

Sometimes I still grin like I did in kindergarten.

It happened again Saturday morning. It doesn’t happen very often. But every once in a while I hear something so beautiful in a fantastic sort of way, that I can’t help it. My mouth forms itself into a huge smile, and it stays that way so long that my facial muscles begin to ache. That happened Saturday morning at an organ concert at the Overture Center in Madison.

The organist was Ahreum Han. She was born in Seoul, Korea. Her family immigrated to Atlanta, Georgia when she was 16. She has earned advanced degrees in organ performance; she currently performs recitals worldwide; and she has won tons of awards. She is presently the Principal Organist, Assistant Director of Music, and Artist-in-Residence at First Presbyterian Church in Davenport, Iowa. She also is the College Organist at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa.

What was so great about her concert Saturday morning that I had to over-exercise my smiling muscles? Three things:

  1. Her varied selections and her skillful performance of each piece
  2. Her attitude
  3. Her response to a noisy “bird” in the hall.
Ahreum Han

Ahreum Han

The concert opened with Han’s own transcription of Jacques Offenbach Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld.” The style of that piece was as far removed from a stereotypical organ work, such as a Bach chorale, as possible. Think of a bawdy chorus line doing the “Can-Can” dance. Then think of what it would sound like played on a huge pipe organ. See why I couldn’t help smiling throughout the whole piece!

The next piece was a Bach. Really – a giant change in mood. Sinfonia from Cantata No. 29. Also beautiful, but in a very different way. My mouth was still stuck in a beaming smile.

That piece was followed by a modern piece called Three Jazz Preludes by Johannes Matthias Michel. The three movements were titled Swing Five, Bossa Nova, and Afro-Cuban. After that was a beautiful, melodic piece – My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice from Samson and Delilah by Camille Saint-Saens, followed by two powerful pieces by Louis Vierne.

She played all this music with both hands and both feet flying all over the organ, without a single sheet of music in front of her.

Han introduced each piece before playing it, and with a smile she always said, “I hope you enjoy it.” It was clear that she was really trying to give us a good time by what she played. With her enthusiasm, how could we help but share her wonderful attitude!

Bird Singing in tuxThere was only one thing wrong with the concert. Maybe it was a bird inside Overture Hall. Or maybe it was a bug somewhere in the organ or somewhere else in all the systems that usually work together flawlessly in modern buildings. Whatever it was, it chirped throughout the whole concert. I first heard some squeaking during the Bach piece, and I thought maybe one of the pedals squeaked. But the gremlin even had the nerve to chirp when Han was standing at the microphone introducing the next piece. Han was not distracted in the least by the chirping. She somehow managed to block it from her mind so that all of us could focus with her on the incredible music she was creating.

Ahreum Han completely deserved the standing ovation she received at the end of the concert. And then she rewarded us with more “Can-Can” to send us home with great big grins on our faces.

Alfred BrendelAs I was thinking back on how wonderful this concert was, despite the “bird” in the room, I remembered another concert I attended about 30 years ago. I was living in Chicago at the time, and Mim and I had season tickets to a Sunday afternoon piano concert series in Orchestra Hall downtown. This particular concert was in the middle of winter, and at least a quarter of the people in the audience were sneezing and coughing. The pianist was Alfred Brendel, the biggest name pianist on the series that year. I don’t remember what he played, but I do remember that after the first movement, he stood up, faced the audience, and said in total seriousness, “Will everyone who is coughing, please do it now and then stop.” He walked off the stage for a few minutes, then came back, sat down at the piano, and continued the piece.

The audience was stunned. All the coughers and sneezers were embarrassed. A few people left. I think everyone felt bad and uncomfortable. It was hard to really enjoy the rest of the concert. There was less coughing, but it was nearly impossible to get lost in the music – what if I would have to cough or sneeze?

Attitude. When I compare Han’s attitude toward the chirping to Brendel’s attitude toward the coughing, I’m inspired by Han. She really wanted us to have a good time enjoying her music. That’s all that mattered.

Thank you, Ahreum Han, for the beautiful music, and for the lesson in life.

Ahreum Han 2

Great Expectations for this week – 7 of them!

For several weeks now, a friend of mine has been posting a list of three things she’s thankful for each day. Usually the lists are just that – three words or short phrases in a simple list format – just a quick statement of things she’s particularly thankful for that day. That practice got me thinking in lists. Today I made a list of some “Great Expectations” I have for this week. There are seven items on my list. I’m not nearly as concise as my friend, but here’s my list of “Great Expectations for this Week.”

  1. An inspiring and productive Writers Week at Whispering Winds. This week has been designated on our retreat calendar as “Retreat for Writers.” Several writers will be coming to Whispering Winds for a day or two to write, to be away from their distractions at home and to focus their energy entirely on writing. I expect each writer to have a wonderfully inspiring and productive time here.
  2. Safe travel for weekend guests. This coming weekend a couple guests are coming to Cambridge for the wedding of a friend. One is coming from the east coast. The other is coming from Europe. I trust each guest will have safe travels, joyful celebrations with their friends, and a relaxing and refreshing time at Whispering Winds.
  3. A good time of reflection at the women’s worship service at the county jail.  Reading Scripture, giving testimonies, singing hymns, and praying together with the chaplain and several inmates is a truly special time of sharing deep thoughts and feelings with each other and with God. I always look forward to playing the piano for these services and being invited to participate with the group in their sharing activities.
  4. Playing the pipe organ at Messiah

    Finding just the right organ music for next Sunday’s church service. As a church organist, I usually try to find a prelude and postlude, and sometimes other special music, that reinforces the main theme of the Scripture for that day. As I study the lectionary readings for Sunday, and flip through the pages of organ arrangements, I trust that just the right music will jump out at me. Almost always, that’s what happens. Sometimes the process takes an hour. Sometimes most of a day. My expectation is that the prelude will help people get in the right mindset for the message of the day, and that the postlude will help people remember what God is saying to them through the Scriptures, the sermon, and the hymns.

  5. My brand new great-great-nephew and his mom will go home from the hospital early this week. Ethan is the 2-day-old son of Christina and Josh. Christina is the daughter of my nephew Terry and his wife, Eng (originally from Cambodia). Terry is the oldest son of my sister, Nancy, and her husband, Clark. Family connections are wonderful – especially the longer they get. Just think of all the people who are rejoicing over the birth of Ethan – literally all around the world – because of how we all are connected.

    Marian’s grandfather plowing with horses.

  6. A smooth implementation of all the changes I just made on our website. Lots of new pictures. More information about the thread of hospitality that can be traced from the beginnings in 1908 when my grandparents bought the farm, through all the uses of the farm in the 104 years since then. Ending with some conjecture about how the farmhouse will be used next… Here’s a direct link to the new Past & Future section, http://whisperingwindsretreathaven.com/pastfuture.html.
  7. That this blog post will prompt readers to ponder and be thankful for their own expectations for this week.