Let all the earth cry out to God with joy…
Know that the LORD is God;
he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.
The LORD is good:
his kindness endures forever,
and his faithfulness, to all generations.
A good friend of mine texted me earlier in the week to let me know that Joan Weissert had passed away. Many of you don’t know Mrs. Weissert – I’m not sure many of my family or friends would know Mrs. Weissert. She was the fourth head on my Mt. Rushmore of music instructors. What? Simply put, she was the fourth most influential person in my life who instructed and shaped me towards my career as a liturgical musician.
The first person who was carved into my proverbial mountain was my Dad’s mother – Vera Delores Dorhauer (she was also my link to the Mayflower as her great great…add the generations to it) grandfather – John Howland – came over to America on the Mayflower. My Grandma Dorhauer was the – THE – quietest woman I’ve ever met in my life but when she sat down at a piano, she was one dynamic woman. She was a very gifted piano player and not one time when she played for us did she ever need a piece of music – everything she played was “by ear”. My grandpa would delight in the fact that he could say “Delores, play such and such song” and she would sit at the piano and play as if she had written the song herself. It was truly one of the highlights of visiting my grandparents (or when they came to our house) – listening to her play the piano.
Number two on the mountain? This man meant so much to me I named my second son after him in his honor – Mr. Richard Lee (and it turns out my wife’s piano teacher was a Richard too). Mr. Lee was loved by all of my family and had a great influence on all of our lives. He taught at St. Blaise (our parish grade school) and had each of us for homeroom. He was my first piano teacher – from 4th grade through 8th grade). His love for music – his love for life – had the biggest impression on me next to my parents. Starting in 6th grade, after two years of taking piano lessons from him, he told me that God had given me this talent and because of that I had to use it for more than just my entertainment. He then taught me to accompany the younger kids when they sang at the various grade school concerts we did for our parents. Then he dropped the bomb on me in 8th grade and told me I had to start learning how to play the organ – not just for my entertainment again, but for Masses. It was January of 1978 that I played an organ at Mass for the first time leading a congregation; 5 PM on a Saturday night and it was bad – BAD. I can’t believe they let me keep playing after that Mass. I stayed in touch with Mr. Lee my entire life and after having moved back to St. Louis back in 2002, my Dad and I would have lunch with him regularly. My highest honor for him was being asked to play at his funeral Mass when he passed away. I still love that man deeply to this day.
Number 3 on the mountain is another person many who know me won’t recognize the name – Charles Cordeal. I was able to find this excerpt from an article on him…
Charles R. Cordeal, a music teacher and church organist for nearly 46 years, died Sunday (Nov. 5, 1995) at his home in Webster Groves after a lengthy illness. He was 72.
Mr. Cordeal was choir director and organist at Mary Queen of Peace parish in Webster Groves from 1949 until his death. In a career that spanned nearly a half-century, Mr. Cordeal taught thousands of students throughout the St. Louis area on piano and organ.
As this article states, he was known among those in St. Louis as the organ teacher. The man dedicated his life to this profession and it was Mr. Lee who introduced us back in 1978. According to Mr. Lee, I had gone as far as I could with him as my teacher and recommended I start taking lessons from Mr. Cordeal. So every Sunday morning – SUNDAY morning – AT 6 AM – Dad and I would head into Webster Groves and I would have an hour long lesson with Mr. Cordeal. Dad and I did that for the better part of 4 years. Mr. Cordeal’s studio was added onto to his house in Webster Groves and had a concert grand piano, an upright piano, an old draw-bar organ and an operating pipe organ. I’m not sure how many ranks the pipe organ was but I didn’t care – he had a pipe organ in his house. Mr. Cordeal taught me how to NOT play the organ like a piano (they may have keyboards, but they are completely different instruments). He taught me how to transition from one to key to the next without it sounding like “hot buttered popcorn”. I learned now to use the fool pedals and how to read music like an organist with either the three lines of music (right hand, left hand and foot pedals) or how to take the traditionally written music (treble/bass clef notes) and play them with all my appendages (treble clef – right hand; top notes of the bass clef – left hand, lowest note of the bass clef – feet). But the thing I credit Mr. Cordeal with teaching me that has had the most influence in my career is “ad-libing” the music (or as Patrick Huether would say – noodling). A lot of time church music will give you the melody line and a chord above that and it’s up to you to make that work with your left hand and your feet. I also learned from him to be able to just sit down at a piano and play whatever thoughts are in my head. I was not as close to Mr. Cordeal as I was Mr. Lee but I had a profound respect for this man and the gift he gave the Church by training so many organists for Mass.
All of that brings me to my last head on Mt. Rushmore – Mrs. Joan Weissert. She was the music teacher and Choir Director at Prep North – my high school. My first year there was also hers, so I didn’t have a preconceived notion about her or could my brothers have warned me about any given reputations she might have. I will say this, she trusted me – not completely, as a freshman in high school to be one of the accompanists for the high school choir, as an organist for the school masses and as a pianist for the high school guitar group. I love her for that trust. She was not easy on me at times. I recall freshman year having a choir practice in the gym (getting ready for a Mass with the Archbishop (John L. May at that time) and I was struggling with the timing on a certain choir piece so she pounded the count of the music on my back while I was playing. It wasn’t helping, so she pounded harder and started yelling at me. I handled it well though…I slammed the lid shut on the piano keys and told her that if she thought she could play the piece better, to go ahead and do so and then I walked out of choir practice. Needless to say that went over (pardon the pun) like a fart in church and she reprimanded me for embarrassing her in front of the choir. We came to terms and moved on from there. It was through Mrs. Weissert that I was able to play at a whole lot of churches in St. Louis – including the organ at the Old Cathedral. She was very adamant that what we did as choir was not to be kept inside the walls of the high school and she took our choir all over the City and County to do Sunday Masses at a number of Churches. It was through her tutelage that I was able to get over my fear of not only playing for a congregation but not to be afraid of making a mistake when playing for a congregation. I owe a lot to that wonderful woman. Mrs. Weissert, rest in peace. All the Masses I play this weekend for Mass will be in your honor.
I do have a 5th head that I would place on my Mt. Rushmore, but I will save revealing who that is for another post…I’ve bored you long enough this morning.
Do something great for our Lord today – think of someone who was influential in your life and say a pray for them today. Let that prayer cry out to God with joy and thanksgiving for the wonderful gift that they were to you.
God’s will, not mine, be done.
Be not afraid; just have faith.
Jesus, I trust in You.
He must increase; I must decrease.
Lord, if You wish, You can make me clean.
But you man of God chose righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness. Compete well for the faith.
Eternal God, in Whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion – inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us so that in difficult moments we may not despair nor become despondent but with great confidence, submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.