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Chuck Hinman: IJMA. All Kinds Of Challenges in My Life

Chuck Hinman: All Kinds Of Challenges in My Life. Chuck tells of his life hobby, his music, of his failing hearing, and of his new 'grown-up' adventure: writing.
Next earlier Chuck Hinman column - Salt Cellars and Stuff

By Chuck Hinman

All Kinds Of Challenges in My Life

Life is crowded with one challenge after another and mine has been no exception. My current challenge is the wearing out of my ears due to aging and the effect that has on my quest for happiness.

Music is my life-long hobby. Many people know about my musical forays but haven't a clue what I did at Phillips Petroleum Company for 37 years. And that's all right. It reminds me of my Auntie Grace. She admitted she wanted to get the dishes done so she could get to playing bridge! She didn't want mundane things like housework to get in the way of the real purpose of her life -- playing games and having a good time.

Auntie Grace was my music teacher. In addition to teaching me how to 'tickle the ivories,' some of her philosophies of life trickled down to me. And I have been playing ever since.

Playing piano started at ten years old

I started playing the piano at church when I was ten years old. I was the accompanist for different things when I was in high school. Every time there was a music contest within driving distance of our little town of Liberty, Nebraska, I was entered in it. My highest honor came in my senior year. I entered the M-I-N-K music contest (Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas) and won a special rating - 'Highly Superior.' Normally the highest rating is Superior but the judges of this competition felt my rendition of Franz Liszt's famous Hungarian Rhapsody #2 was so far above the 35 or so other piano contestants that they awarded this one-time rating for me. Who was I to argue?

When people in southeastern Nebraska heard about this chubby farm kid who was wowing audiences everywhere, I was invited to play for every musical program or goat-milking contest in the area. Mr. Hugh Munson, Superintendent of Schools at nearby Union Center, decided to run for County Superintendent of Schools of Gage County Nebraska. He knew of my skill at the piano and asked me to be on his team to play 'my song' where crowds were gathered to hear his push for the County Superintendent's job. There were several other young musicians in his stable. It was fun and I was flattered by the notoriety.

My folks were impressed with the college where the M-I-N-K contest was hosted each year, Peru State Teacher's College in Peru, Nebraska. I went to college there for two years before I was drafted into military service. I played for The Bobcats. You are probably thinking I was an athlete too - No! The Bobcats was the name of the college dance band patterned after the famous Glenn Miller band which was the rage of young people.

When I was in the U. S. Air Force, I wasn't a career military musician but I did play in a dance band while I was going to college at Montana State College in Bozeman.

After I left military service, while finishing college and getting my career and family going, there was a period of not much music in my life for ten years. I never had access to a piano where I lived in those years.

New beginning in church music

All that changed when the church music director at Limestone Methodist Church, now East Cross Methodist church, here in Bartlesville, asked me to play the organ for a church service. I had never sat at the console of an organ before. From that beginning to play the organ, I have had a 50-55 year career as organist-pianist and all that entails.

My church musical life has been lived out mostly at New Harmony Baptist Church in rural Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where I have played for the weddings and funerals involving church members. I enjoyed a reputation of being on the calling list of local funeral directors to play for funeral services at their places of business. I even gave organ lessons for a number of years. I taught our kids how to play.

Houston: being a small pea in a big pod

In 1982 we were transferred to Houston, Texas, by Phillips. We became members of the large Tallowood Baptist Church. That church had quality musicians in the pews, waiting 'in the wings' to play for anything. Even though I had found my musical niche in our little country church, New Harmony, I was a small pea in a big pod at Tallowood. Nevertheless, I played the organ in the chapel for the Japanese speaking congregation and for our Senior Adult Sunday School Department. Also I was the pianist for Tallowood men's gospel quartet, The Delegates. We performed all over the Houston area.

When we returned to live in Bartlesville in 1987, I resumed my musical pursuits at New Harmony. I tried out as accompanist for The Philtones, a public relations arm of Phillips Petroleum Company consisting of 16 vocalists and three instrumentalists. What a wonderful experience, we got to travel at Phillips' expense and to perform in formal duds! A couple of our trips were to Dayton, Ohio, and Tucson, Arizona. At one time they had appeared on the famous Ted Mack's Amateur Hour in New York City!

Being in 'show biz' above taking out trash

I felt like a star when I left home, resplendent in my white dinner jacket, red bow-tie and cummerbund to perform somewhere. I guess my pants were getting too large and my wife, Connie decided to bring me down a notch. All dressed up and with my briefcase in hand I was about to leave to catch my ride when Connie said, "Oh, Hon, would you take that bag of trash to the trash can on your way?" I replied in an uppity voice -- "Woman! I am in show biz and I don't do trash!" but I did as she said!

One thing after another filled my musical calendar in my retirement years. Among other things there was our long-time membership in the Contemporary Organ Guild that met once a month in people's homes. I played a lot of programs there. I was also a member of the Theater Pipe Organ Club of Tulsa. What a thrill for this country kid to play one of those babies!

Owning organs rather than cars

Over the years I don't know how many organs I have owned. I had the latest and best in organs when most men opted for cars. My last organ and the one I presently own is an incomparable Lowrey Celebration Deluxe. I believe the price tag when I bought it ten years ago was $35,000. That would have bought a pretty decent Cadillac but my thing was and is - ORGANS! It has all the bells and whistles. It is made to tax the ability of a highly trained organist, or it can be played by a handicapped organist. That feature alone has been my saver. I had a stroke in 1994 that immobilized my legs slightly. With this organ I can play or choose NOT to play the foot pedals and they still play as though I were playing them! What a musical marvel!

In recent years I have developed a neurological problem called essential tremor. It affects the right side of my body. My right hand shakes uncontrollably when I try to do anything that requires dexterity. Even though it is impossible for me to feed myself normally with my right hand, the good Lord has exempted this handicap from wiping me out at the keyboard of the organ or piano. It seems to be a non-issue. Thank you Lord!

Storm clouds gathering over musical life

But there are storm clouds gathering on the horizon of my musical life. I have tried to be cool and collected about whatever happens knowing that my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who knows the doings of an insignificant sparrow, loves me and wants what is best for me. That thought alone takes most of the pressure off simple things like failing body parts.

Several years ago I developed AMD -- age-related Macular Degeneration. I began to accept the fact that some day, my musical playing would probably end because I couldn't read the music. I have had expert treatment and am no longer fearful that my music is going to be shut-down because of my vision. However, something else has quietly crept in that I now see as my nemesis as a musician. It is my lowly, ugly ears! Who would have thought a few years back when we were in Houston and I got my first set of hearing aids that some day my hearing would deteriorate to the point I would feel compelled to give up my cherished life-long hobby -- music?

Letting go of music responsibilities

But, one by one over recent years, I have let go. I have given-up playing for the Philtones. I have resigned most of my church-music responsibilities. Several weeks ago, it was my volunteer nursing home playing with the M&M group from Highland Park Baptist church. I turn down playing for funerals and weddings. I have quit playing for my own pleasure simply because it isn't a pleasure anymore when it doesn't sound right. That doesn't leave anything but playing for residents here at Tallgrass Estates and that is no longer any fun for me.

The culprit is not that I can't get it loud enough, it is more insidious than that. All music, whether I am playing it or whether I am trying to hear it at concerts in the confines of our Community Center, one of the finest acoustical halls in the world, EVERYTHING comes out sounding like mush. What a predicament after all these years! It's not my eyes, it's not my mind, IT'S MY EARS THAT DID ME IN!

When I moved to Tallgrass Estates three years ago, I was given approval to move my organ to the dining room to play occasionally for the entertainment of the residents. And that I have done on a regular basis even though my hearing gives me FITS!

Here's what my challenge is -- the subject of this article (if you have forgotten).

Music sounding like mush

Anytime anyone has asked me to play in the last year or so, I have been like a "deaf-dumb" person. NO WISE CRACKS PLEASE! I haven't a clue what my audience hears when I play. Apparently it sounds normal to them. To me, it is disarming to say the least; it is just unidentifiable NOISE! Can you comprehend what that does to me -- a 75 year musician. Hearing-aid specialists tell me there is no remedy. I have the best hearing-aids and/or hearing aid technology available. My hearing loss is so complete that hearing music is A THING OF THE PAST FOR ME. Oh Lord, where do we go from here?

Well, Chuck Hinman, the good ride is over. You have had a good life with your hobby -- your music. I have made tentative arrangements with the new Eldercare facility on Swan Drive to have my organ when I finally give up playing here at Tallgrass. It's like watching a friend die slowly. In the last few days I have been accumulating boxes for my extensive music collection over the years to be given away to those of my friends who I think would like it.

But it's not easy as you can imagine, as one by one I stick each album or piece of music in a box to go to some one of my friends. For example, I came to the sheet music -- a song called "Dark Eyes" -- a beautiful song just made for the deep registrations of a theater organ. I gulped! I hadn't seen it in years. I had forgotten I had it. And even though it took less than a minute deciding whose box it goes in, pleasant memories flooded my being when I recalled where I had performed that song. But those days are over -- they are just memories now. I will never play "Dark Eyes" again! And so as I held that piece of music briefly to my chest I thought - "Good-by, dear friend. It was great knowing you and playing you!" And on and on....

Saying goodbye to sheet music

My floor and apartment are strewn with music that I want to say "Goodbye to" individually. An easy job? Not at all! It's like saying goodbye to ALL your friends of a lifetime -- one at a time. It's cruel!

BUT, that paints the picture bleaker than it really is. There are other ducks on the pond than just the musical ducks at a carnival game. The Lord has thoughtfully brought along at this stage in my life an interest in writing. I love it!

Finding a 'grown-up' hobby: writing

My first book It's Just Me is due any day from the local printer. This writing will be #4 in my next book! And if that's not enough, I have ordered and look forward to an extensive Bible Study that isn't going to be affected one iota by the condition of my ears. My cataract has been removed. I ordered new glasses yesterday and I am excited about my future with Bible Study and with continuing to write my memoirs. How much better can it get?

And someone will say -- well, what about your music Chuck? Aren't you going to miss it dreadfully?

And I will clear the lump out of my throat, force a little smile, and say with moistened eyes -- "Oh, oh that! Oh yes, that was something I used to do when I was little... but I'm grown up now -- I'm a writer -- haven't you heard?"

Filling the empty places with new things

I'm still sniffling but I will be all right when I fill the empty places on the shelves with other things. And the Lord already knows what those are!
My Lord knows the way through the wilderness,
all I have to do is fol-low.
da da da da etc..........................
- Word and music: Sidney E Cox
Written by Chuck Hnman, ImPeruvians Writing Club, 17 June 2005 (edited by RHS with a few additions from a later version and minor changes).

This story was posted on 2013-09-08 10:36:40
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