Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Songs in the Night

I had mentioned in my previous post about the music rumbling through my head.  Music that has hung around in my memory banks for well over thirty years!  No, it's not Rock and Roll.  It's something different. . . very different.

Let's "set the table" so to speak and provide some background to the topic.  When I became a follower of Jesus Christ in the turbulent 1970's, I became attached to a local church in Oceanside; First Baptist Church of Oceanside, to be exact.  Shortly after I was baptized and joined the church there, the leadership called James E. Boersma to become the Minister of Music.  I didn't know what that was at the time.  I was about to find out. . . 

He moved to Oceanside from Hollywood, where I learned he was well entrenched in a house there he had owned for decades.  So this was a big move and change for him.  The church members helped him move, as I recall.  Lots of stuff. . . and a grand piano to go with all the furniture.  Was that ever impressive the first time I saw it in his new house, the former model home and sales office for a housing tract - College Terrace - just outside of Mira Costa College in Oceanside.  He even purchased the asphalted adjacent lot next to the house to park his orangish sun faded 1970 Oldsmobile 98 sedan in.  The house's garage was the model home's sales room, and he kept it carpeted and intact the way the real estate company had it, locating his grand piano dead center in the middle of that garage room.  This suited him perfectly for playing his grand piano and "working," as he called it.  Playing music all the time was more like it, though.  "How could playing such a beautiful piano all day long be considered work?" I thought to myself then.   

In due time, I found out.  Pastor Boersma, or "Brother" Boersma to some in the church, arranged, composed, edited, conducted and played music.  He was the consummate musician. . . but not any secular variety musician.  A sacred music musician.  What was Sacred Music?  We church youth who attended the first vocal youth choir and handbell choir - five octaves at that - soon found out.  Sacred Music was music that was devoted to God and His purposes in one's life.  But nothing dull and boring, necessarily. 

Some of the compositions we sang, played and enjoyed while worshiping God with Pastor Boersma - in practice session or in performance - were There's a New Song In My Heart (Since the Savior Set Me Free) - often used as a Call to Worship number to start the worship services on Sundays, I'm So Happy and Here's the Reason Why (Jesus Washed My Sins All Away), and When the Saints Come Marching In.  The youth handbell choir often played as a Call to Worship Love Divine (All Loves Excellingand This is the Day That the Lord Has Made (Let Us Rejoice and Be Glad In It).  I found out through experience that Pastor Boersma was a fan of Ralph Carmichael, and later as an adult found out he was well known by him.  So we had lots of Ralph Carmichael compositions to sing in choir.  Anything by Singspiration was also the standing order of the day.  Bill Gaither compositions - new at that time - and other well liked songs by fellow Sacred Music composers he knew from that period rounded out the overwhelming majority of the musical selections performed, besides hymns, of course.  Fairly lively stuff for a Baptist church to have performed in it during the 1970's from what I later as an adult figured out.   

The adult choir would always close with Think on These Things from the well known passage from Paul's letter to the Philippians.  "Whatsoever things are good. . . whatsoever things are true. . . whatsoever things are holy. . . Think on these things.  And the peace of God shall be with you. . . the peace. . . of God. . . shall be with you. . . .  Wow. . . Just wow. . . that closing always sent shivers up my spine back then.  Now too, if I could find out where to hear a copy of it.  Very, very comforting words for folks living through the turbulent 1970's. . . a decade where a good number of Evangelical Christians thought the Rapture could take place at any time and, to quote the words from yet another song from the period, I wish we'd all been ready. 

In the course of my time as a youth handbell choir member, I learned several hymns that I never would have known or heard the lyrics if it weren't for Pastor Boersma's practices.  Sun of My Soul.  Day is Dying in the West.  It is Well with My Soul (a more mainstream hymn).  Beautiful restful Sacred Music.  What a gift it was to go as a youth handbell choir to Oceana in Oceanside - a Senior Adult planned community - and play these very numbers to an appreciative, but limited audience of seniors.  I knew they enjoyed the music.  I enjoyed playing it for them.

Last but not least were the cantatas.  Easter Song.  Independence Day patriotic and Sacred Hymns to mark the day - including a very memorable July 4th, 1976 Bicentennial performance.  And of course the "Living Christmas Tree" open air Christmas Hymn and Carol free concert held each year at Plaza Camino Real in Carlsbad.  All with vocal choir(s), handbells - adult and youth ensembles - and orchestra, which Senior Pastor Harvey M. Lifsey would continually mispronounce as "orchester". 

I'll never forget one Sunday morning on July 4, 1976 when I had to get my Bass bell ringing position playing in sync with the right bell at the right time.  If you know anything about handbell choirs, the bass position is the one that deals with the heaviest, most easily to be clumsy and make a "clang!" with kind of bells.  It fell to me.  I was slow on the uptake that final rehearsal that Sunday morning, but I finally got it right.  Pastor Boersma was very concerned his "star" Bass handbell player wasn't going to "get it right" but God was in control, and worked through me to get it on key and in tempo.  Now that was work. . . all praise to God.

* * * * *

All that said. . . who was James E. Boersma?  There used to be a whole page devoted to him on the 'Net some years ago, but I can't find it now.  Here's what some of his contemporaries said about him:

It was through Dr. Coleman Phillips, Pastor of the Cathedral of the Valley FourSquare Church in Escondido, that I was priviliged to meet such great men of the faith including Dr. Jack Hayford, James Boersma, one of the great arrangers who also introduced me to the Ralph Carmichael organization, and of course Dr. Roy Hicks who became a good friend and mentor.    --Larrie Dee

I have known James Boersma, music editor for the Rodeheaver Company, longer than almost anybody in this business.  Jimmy and I go back a long way -- clear back to teenage days, and I'm not telling how far back that is!  Jimmy Boersma can do just about anything that has to be done in music.  He composes, he arranges, he conducts, he edits.  Jimmy is one of the most talented men in this field, and a real Christian gentleman.  --Rudy Atwood (Go to Page 117 for the source citation)

From those who knew him well. . . even better than I.  Well said!  A great man of the faith.  One who can do just about anything that has to be done in music.  A real Christian gentleman.  Indeed!  I quite agree.

It doesn't say it from the limited research I've done just now, but Pastor Boersma actually wrote Sacred Music and led worshippers in song at Angelus Temple, historically famous as the 20th Century church where Aimee Semple McPherson was Pastor before scandal broke in her life and she was tainted with its effects.  He was her contemporary and knew her very well.  I remember how he would sometimes have our bell choir begin practice by saying "Let's pray for (famous name actor or performer) that they come to know the Lord soon!"  He actually knew such folk through his life and ministry in Hollywood.  But he never made a big deal of it.  Humble about it to the end. 

Pastor Boersma was also fond of saying "Smile!  It takes more muscles to make a frown than to make a smile.  Do you want your muscles to work harder or easier?  So let's do it!  Let's see everyone smile!"  . . . as he demonstrated a winning Christ loving smile on his lips, baring his smaller sized teeth which were in pretty good "ivory white" condition for someone of his older age.

Here's to you, dear Pastor Boersma. . . with fond memories and thanksgiving to God for all you exemplified to me and those in the music ministry at the church at that time. . . I look heavenward at the Lord and you with, yes, a smile.  Your work and ministry still gives me Songs in the Night!  

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