Fern Shantz: Expressing my faith through music

I was raised in a musical house with our stereo was blaring anything from Beethoven to Mahler. My father had a real interest in classical music and by osmosis all seven of us learned some of what made good music by listening to these vinyl records. We all took music lessons in piano, violin or trumpet. I was in grade four at school when I began piano lessons with a local teacher, Myrtle Wildfong. I loved her, but not always the practice. 

My father, Ezra Brubacher, was a song leader at our church, so I’d hear him singing, practicing these “shaped note” songs! Our congregation still sings primarily a cappella. When we first got an organ and a piano for worship, it was a natural next step for me to get involved since not many in our church could play a keyboard. We had an electric organ for about 45 years and still have a piano. My involvement has been accompanying choirs, soloists, small groups, and congregational singing only if the accompaniment enhances the piece or if it’s a new song. My motivation is to do my best to create a worship setting in my solo work, to allow soloists, groups and choirs to express their faith in song, to continue my own writing and arranging for (in) congregational settings.

Workshops and sing-songs with Marilyn Houser Hamm; Mark Diller Harder and Charlene Nafziger and Menno Singers; Robert Shantz; and John Bell have put a real desire in me to continue my own journey in music ministry.

For income I teach others to play the piano. To do my best for my church is my way of trying to set an example. When I retire from teaching my students, it is my desire to publish some of my arrangements.

At our church we generally sing songs chosen by the song leaders or pastors. I choose my own piano music for preludes, offeratories and postludes.

I am interested in hymns created from the 1500s to the present day. Some pieces from Sing the Journey and Sing the Story are absolutely profoundly beautiful and I use them frequently. One special new song is, “Nothing is Lost in the breath of God” by Colin Gibson, (#121 STS). The melody and harmony captivate me, but the lyrics are a real self-challenge and confession of faith. I love it!

A few other of my favourites are:  “How Long (of) O Lord by Christopher Norton and Barbara Woollett (#88 STS); “Lord, Jesus you shall be my Song” (#24 STJ); and “One is the Body” (#72 STJ).

It is very difficult for me to choose a favourite hymn, but I do love the memories associated with “Unto the Hills Around” #257 in The Mennonite Hymnal (tune by Charles Purday, 1860 and words by John Campbell, 1866). I heard it so often on “The Mennonite Hour” radio program on Sunday mornings as a kid.

 The people of our congregation love the old gospel songs, but Sing the Journey and Sing the Story songs are totally embraced when they are familiar. The standard hymns are a staple!

I have some special memories of accompanying solos and choirs. Among them are a Christmas Eve when Jim Bauman sang “But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming” from Handel’s Messiah. I also remember Jim Bauman singing, “How Long, O Lord,” on a Sunday morning and another Christmas Eve when the men’s choir sang the “Huron Carol.”  When I accompanied Rob Hunt singing, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” it brought tears to my eyes.

I must say that when a soloist, small group, choir or the congregation sings lustily, sweetly or prayerfully and the accompaniment enhances the mood, it’s like heaven.

I appreciate the cover symbol on the Sing the Journey and Sing the Story song books. The lamb in the briars continues to be my call to faithful service in our Anabaptist tradition. I have given four-and-a-half decades of service in sincere humility.

Edited by Barb Draper