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Just keep going and other lessons from a musician

vitranc/Getty Images Young adults church choir, unfocused
LESSONS: Music — and music educators — teach lessons that last a lifetime.
Good music education programs can be found in rural America — and where they are, the lessons go far beyond reading music.

It was a Thursday night. Dress rehearsal for our high school dinner theater, the year we did a Hollywood movie theme. Sometime in the early ’90s. Two boys acted out a 007 fight scene, out front of the show choir. One of the punches accidently landed.

As a bunch of teenagers were gasping and laughing when we were supposed to be dancing, singing and playing, Mrs. Grubb appeared from the darkness. She was the choir director, and she yelled at the top of her lungs: “KEEP! GOING! KEEP! GOING! KEEP! GOING!” leaning forward and punctuating every single word with a very loud clap.

So we did.

The show must go on. And when you don’t know what to do, keep going.

Mrs. Grubb passed away earlier this month. Mary Jo Grubb Barnard taught generations of students in Albion, Ill., and the surrounding communities to love music and Jesus, from the school to the United Methodist Church.

She championed kids and their passions, and she let a whole passel of junior high and high school piano players accompany choir pieces, including me. The lessons I learned in having to keep time with an entire choir, so early on, come out every time I help lead music at our church.

Mrs. Grubb taught music from kindergarten through high school, and even today, if I hear the clap cadence she used to get our attention, I might just clap in response: one, two, three-and-four.

I’ve come to realize as an adult what a rare musical experience we had back home: The same two music teachers taught for my entire 13-year school career. And both started well before me and continued well after, at the same school. They launched that dinner theater my freshman year of high school, and it continues today.

What a gift, and what a legacy, when so many rural schools are reducing and cutting music programs. And when COVID-19 has decimated vocal music programs.

Mrs. Grubb's lessons run deep. Love music. Love God. The show must go on.

And when you don’t know what to do, just keep going.

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