’M A LITTLE EARLY for Thanksgiving, but I think any church musician will appreciate this story of gratitude. A couple of weeks ago, I came out of church one evening after playing four or five of our parish’s eight Sunday Masses. When I had arrived in the morning, there was brilliant sunshine, and the parking lot was so full that I had to park along the adjacent block. By now, it was twilight, and the street was quiet. I soaked in the calm.
But as I approached my car, I noticed a paper tucked under the wiper blade. “A ticket?” I thought. “Since when is it illegal to park along a neighborhood street?”
When I got closer, I realized it was a collection envelope from our parish. There was no money in it—there was something even better: a note.
“Kevin THANKS, Great playing! God bless you & family”
I stood there, stunned. Someone had recognized my car, realized how much they appreciated having organ music at Mass (we’re still not allowed to sing), and rooted around for the only piece of paper they could find, which happened to be a collection envelope from six months ago. They then took the time to write me a note.
It’s such a simple thing, but it lifted my spirits for days.
The Unmistakable Power of Committing Words to Paper
I think you’ll agree that we church musicians don’t do what we do for the compliments. There are even times when it can feel embarrassing to be praised extravagantly for merely doing what God gave us the talent to do—especially if we’re fortunate enough to be paid for our efforts (as I am).
But this simple, spontaneous note meant so much to me. I took it home and put it on my desk so that I could see it all day as I work on my computer. It’s still there as I write this article.
Why was this note more meaningful than if the anonymous person had said the same thing to my face? It’s not that spoken words are cheap. But like music, they float away and can never be recreated precisely. By contrast, a written note has staying power. We commit to paper (and not just the screen) words that we hope someone will revisit often. A handwritten letter is an enduring, deeply personal gift.
When my longtime Head Chorister went off to college in August, she wrote me a beautiful, heartfelt note that’s still on my desk. I’ve read it at least 20 times. She’s still with me because I have her words right in front of me. And I made sure to send my written gratitude off with her.
This windshield note now reminds me each day that all my struggles as a beginning organist are worth it—not only because the music at Mass glorifies God but also because my fellow parishioners appreciate it.
How Handwritten Notes Can Help You Build a Choir
The legendary church choir director John Bertalot knew the power of the written note. In his delightful book Immediately Practical Tips for Choral Directors, he explains how he sent handwritten letters to recruit new singers and to thank them for auditioning. He knew that writing a note would demonstrate his seriousness of purpose and distinguish him from the many other people vying for singers’ attention. If writing notes set John Bertalot apart 30 years ago, how much can it set us apart today in the electronic age?
Folks, let’s bring back the thank-you note. There’s nothing quite like a handwritten expression of gratitude to build a relationship. Happy Thanksgiving to all.