Midwest modest--and more
No showy sendoff for retiring organ player
Wednesday, 18 Sep 2002
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.
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,
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.