Thursday, March 17, 2011
Church to honor minister of music
By SUE WATSON
The First Baptist Church of Holly Springs will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the church’s minister of music, Robert Williams, Sunday, March 20.
The occasion, dubbed “Now Is The Time To Sing,” is to honor Williams and his wife Sharon, who also sings in the choir. Sharon is a member of the “Time Out Singers” and writes some music and teaches one of the children’s choirs.
Williams said his musical talents are a gift from God and he was blessed with parents who encouraged him to develop his talents, starting at age 10 with piano lessons.
“My parents were both committed Christians, and I literally grew up in the church,” he said. “I made my own profession of faith and was baptized in 1964.”
Both parents were singers and music lovers with his father singing bass and his mother singing alto. He started performing in high school, graduated from Kingsbury High in Memphis, Tenn., the former State Technical Institute, and earned a bachelor’s in business administration from the University of Memphis.
Williams was a real estate broker for 20 years and also worked in the audio field.
It was around 1970 or 1971 when Williams believes he was drawn to commit his musical talents to God for His exclusive use. He studied music at the University of Memphis, participated in gospel groups and church music for years, but took a serious turn toward the music ministry when he got a call to do an interim for a church in the early ’80s.
“During that period, I realized that the Lord had been preparing me in many ways, and I am so grateful to some folks who realized it and gave me the opportunity,” Williams said.
He agreed to serve as a supply minister at First Baptist for a week in about 1985 – the week extending into a third week, then he was asked to become interim minister. That continued into Christmas of 1986 when the church offered him the permanent position. After some thought, Williams accepted.
Choir member Dee Whisenant remembers taking part in the Easter cantata in 1986. She said Williams does not teach voice per se.
“We kind of get a voice lesson in choir - to enunciate, pronounce and form proper vowel sounds which is passed on to us as a whole,” Whisenant said. “I use what he taught me to teach children.”
The church had presented two musical events a year as an outreach ministry – the Christmas dinner theater and the Star-Spangled Celebration, which was discontinued after about 10 years. Dinner theater, begun in 1994, is a big affair with full production and meals and enjoys a three-day run. Choir members and volunteers help with the entire production which is guided by Williams.
“We do it all – serve food, clean up, decorate, set up the stage,” Whisenant said.
Williams does much about the church that people do not realize, she said. He does power points for the service, produces programs, tickets and posters, prepares all the music for each event for each instrument.
On Sunday morning, everything looks easy because of the preparation, she said.
“Those in the choir know how much he works on the technical things – his preparation,” Whisenant said. “He’s been a wonderful influence on my life. Robert has a good critical ear. He hears something that needs to be fixed, and he fixes it. Our church is extremely fortunate to have the talent and dedication of the choir and the minister of music.”
Whisenant calls herself a singer “wannabe” and said choir practice is her stress buster.
Choir member Carol Jean Taylor said members have learned about music and how to read music from Williams and how to sing and control the voice.
Williams inspires the choir with mini-sermons during choir practice when he is moved to discuss the meaning of a song.
“He loves music – that’s the whole thing,” Taylor said. “He gets more out of us than we think we have in us. Also, he does a lot of things about the church that nobody knows about. He’s a Jack-of-all-trades. He has had a wonderful background living a Christian life.”
Williams said the community has given him an opportunity “to do something the Lord called me to do – to fulfill my calling.”
Williams was a minister of music for three years prior to coming to Holly Springs. He didn’t turn his talents to a ministry until he was in his early 30s.
“I was a Christian musician for a while,” he said.
He worked in audio engineering and real estate before turning his full attention to music ministry. His wife is a part of that ministry and writes music. He transcribes and arranges music his wife writes.
Some of Williams’ all-time favorites include – “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” “How Great Thou Art,” the choral piece “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name” based on Psalms 8. Others are “Amazing Grace,” and “No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus,” a favorite solo.
“We’ve sung in about all our relatives’ funerals, Mom and Dad’s, cousins, my in-laws,” Williams said.
“In the Garden” was a favorite for relatives’ funerals.
For many, music is a very important part of worship, he said.
“Music considers the entire human person,” he said. “We connect with God on a spirit basis, and mind and will and emotion and physically. It involves us responding, whereas if we listen to the preacher, we sit and listen.”
Williams sees music as complementary to the pastor’s sermon and the Scripture.
“Musically, what we try to do is go off the pastor’s Scripture selection and work off that – the main thrust of his message,” said Williams.
He became a minister of music, he said, through life experiences and by working with others.
“It’s been more on-the-job training,” he said. “I’ve crossed paths with some wonderful people who had choral, conducting, choir and performing experience. I had a gift as a child and parents who helped. I hate to take much credit. The ministry here is a credit to the volunteers who are willing to show up and to a wonderful fellowship.”
Williams has encouraged his singers to express passion.
“I’ve instilled it in them,” he said. “They want to be better – the best they can be.”
Williams said music has changed over the years since he began working with Baptist choirs. In days gone by, the piano was the main musical instrument in Baptist churches. Now it is not uncommon to have piano, organs, guitars and percussion instruments as accompaniment.
The music has also expanded both with the new Baptist Hymnal and with the trend toward contemporary Christian or popular music in churches.
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