David Lauderdale

Church organist still strikes a hallowed chord

Charles Farley will leave Hilton Head Island's First Presbyterian Church this morning, and I hope he does not go quietly.

I'm not talking about the joyful noise he will squeeze from the pipe organ he's played for the past 14 years. On his last Sunday, after the postlude of Charles-Marie Widor's "Toccata," a group of diehards will remain standing as they do each week, and applaud.

That is the noise it would be nice to hear, not only for Farley as he moves on to new horizons, but for church organists all over Beaufort County. They are people who give a lot for very little.

Church organists have to maneuver banks of keyboards and foot pedals that to a layman look more difficult than flying a space shuttle.

They have to know music through the ages.

Their tempo can't be too fast and it can't be too slow.

They must be available at the drop of a hat for funerals and weddings.

They must get along with others, particularly the choir -- the first to arrive and the last to leave every Sunday.

Their blasts must drown out horrible singers like me, but at the same time uplift the voices of the gifted.

The organist drives the worship, yet remains a mere accompanist -- always in the background. Organists can help other musicians get out of trouble on stage, but many people won't even know there is an organist until he or she messes up.

They are itinerant keepers of the soul of worship.

For all this, organists must keep a day job if they want to eat.

The F-sharp

Not many like Farley will come this way again. The 78-year-old retired music professor also played for the Hilton Head Island Choral Society after moving South in 1997.

He's been playing in churches since stepping to an electric organ in a Methodist church in 1955 or 1956. And he's not through yet. He and his wife, Beverly, a professional soprano, have moved to Savannah, where he'll be organist and music director at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on the Isle of Hope.

His mother played piano, so maybe that's why his first performance came at a tiny toy piano when he was in kindergarten. He looked like Schroeder in the "Peanuts" comic strip. The white keys on the little piano made noise, but the black keys were painted on. Charles sat down to play "America." His ear told him he needed a sound that he knows today as an F-sharp, but the little piano couldn't make the sound. When he explained this to his mother, she said, "You're taking piano lessons."

By third grade, Farley was the pianist for a Methodist church in the tiny village of Breedsville, Mich., where he was born in a farm house.

He earned a master's degree and doctorate in music. He taught music at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., for 38 years, 21 of them as head of the department. He was organist at two churches in Galesburg, where the last Lincoln-Douglas debate was held, where Carl Sandburg was born and buried, where Ronald Reagan attended first grade, and where he and Beverly were married 45 years ago this week.

They've traveled a lot, but no trips were as meaningful as the summer Farley studied the organ under Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory of Music in Fontainebleau, France, or played an organ in L