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Midwest modest--and more

No showy sendoff for retiring organ player


Perry plays "Now thank we all our God" on the organ at Missouri United Methodist Church.
It's Sunday morning in Columbia, and Carl Schenck, the Senior Pastor at Missouri United Methodist Church, has just concluded the 11 a.m. service. Schenck leads the procession down the aisle, and the pews begin to empty as the members of the congregation talk and make their way to the community room below the sanctuary.

Above the buzz of the members' voices and the bustle of their movement is a melodic creaking. Occasionally, the reverberations of a deep throbbing sound resonate above the roar like distant thunder.

In the front of the church, a bald, older man sits at a bench, face forward, intent on the keys in front of him. He is alone now in the choir loft, except for the woman at his side and a choir of metal pipes.

A few members of the congregation have remained to listen to the music emanating from the metallic choir. And what they hear is a swirl of dancing notes. As the man plays the piece - a traditional selection entitled "Thou Art the Rock" - he periodically nods and the woman turns a page in front of him. When the music ends, the now-sparse crowd applauds. One older woman says to another that it was "very special."

The man turns to the audience for the first time since the metallic choir began. He nods and waves off its applause. When the audience has finished, he turns back to the keyboard in front of him, collects his things and closes the organ console.

This summer, Perry Parrigan will play one final postlude on the organ at Missouri United Methodist Church. And then, after playing for the church off and on for some 25 years, he will retire.

Many other musicians might have used their time after the service to put on a show. Those like Perry who are on their farewell tours might have stood up, encouraged the applause and then soaked it in.

But not Perry. Despite his years of experience and his classical training - or maybe because of them - he is quiet and unassuming. He excels at playing the organ, but he does not force himself to stand out.

He is the epitome of Midwest modesty.

As the Rev. Schenck puts it, "Perry understands the difference between a worship service and an organ concert. He plays in ways that support worship and don't draw undue attention to himself or to his instrument."

At home with students--and their dogs
Perry lives his life in similar ways.

He and his wife Betty - his page turner on Palm Sunday - live in a house just west of the M.U. campus. The house is a brick, one-story structure. It is neither showy or new, large or small. Instead, it is a nice middle-class home.

Perry plays Pachabel's Cannon on the organ at Missouri United Methodist Church.
Inside, shag carpet covers wood floors. Book cases sitting against wood-paneled walls are stocked with tomes ranging from music to law. Coffee tables are covered with a variety of magazines: Newsweek, an alumni magazine, National Geographic.

Perry has lived in this house since 1973, and in that time he has seen many of the surrounding houses converted into student apartments. His is the only single-family residence remaining in the area.

Other people would have used - and did use - the change as an excuse to move out or complain. But Perry remained. And he adapted. He and Betty can often be seen in the spring and summer working in their garden behind the house. He knows the names of many of the students on his street and the names of their pets as well.

"Most of the students are very nice and pleasant," he says, then adds in typical understatement, "and then there are those who put their trash out 10 minutes after the trucks have picked it up for the week."

Perry's statement hints at the other side of him, the side that comes out when he is playing his organ, not when people are applauding him for it. For inside him, there are inner passions that hide behind his outward modesty. Although he is not showy about his emotions, Perry is a man who cares deeply about his community, his friends and his instrument.

Perry will sit in the rocking chair in the living room of his house and talk about issues. If the issue is something he cares about, Perry will express how he feels. But he does so calmly, without getting excited. Even as he discusses Sadie, the dog next door who terrorizes the neighborhood by constantly barking and playing chicken with cars, Perry doesn't raise his voice.

"She is a stupid dog," he says, then relates the latest story of her misadventures. He speaks slowly and softly. His rocking chair barely moves.

 

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Story, audio copyright 2002 Troy Wolverton.
Site design copyright 2002 Columbia Missourian