By Robert Lucke
Some people have described the music of Mary Stevens at First Lutheran Church as an exaltation of God.
Talking to her, it is not important that she is a Chester native or that she has been the music coordinator at First Lutheran in Havre for the last nine years. All that is important is that she play the pipe organ or piano so folks can bask in those wonderful sounds.
Music is a very big part of First Lutheran and no small part of the reason is Mary Stevens, who is now working on Christmas Eve music as well as the Piano and Pipes concert at the church on Dec. 5. That is a community event.
"We are having church choirs from the Methodist, Lutheran and Assembly and a community choir and all the choirs together will perform the Hallelujah Chorus at the end of the concert," Stevens said. "There will be two bell choirs and four flutes and a bell choir performing Jingle Bells. That will be great and there will be vocalists and instrumentalists."
If that isn't enough to be working on, Sunday's go on (choir and bell choir, piano and organ too,) along with funerals and weddings. All require music and that music must be just so for every occasion. Then there is Christmas Eve in the church. No small occasion either.
"For the Christmas Eve services we have brass for the early Christmas Service," Stevens continued. "In the later service we have lots of solos and choir numbers and candlelight for both services. It is very special."
No doubt about it. For Stevens, this is not a job at all. It is a series of joyous occasions.
"The most fun of all is working with all the musicians that I work with," Stevens said. "This is an amazing congregation."
Many talented professional musicians have come from the ranks of First Lutheran parishioners. Some of them led by C.I. Carlson, probably Havre's most famous music person, who was a member of First Lutheran Church.
Stevens is always looking for something special and new for Christmas or anytime to go along with old favorites.
"Now I am practicing Toccata by Widor for Christmas," Stevens said, laughing. "It is fun and festive. I'll probably butcher it, but it is a lot of fun."
Favorite music season for Stevens? Christmas or Easter? Not really.
"Depends on which season we are in. It's like which is my favorite hymn," Stevens said. "Easter is in some ways better because it is not the frantic pace. But Christmas is good too and I can enjoy it longer than most because I start working on it early."
Having a pipe organ that can shake the building is a festive tradition too.
"At Christmas and Easter I sometimes go full blast but take when people are leaving church. Sometimes they want to talk and if it is so loud they can't hear, they begin to resent the music. That is the last thing I want so I tone it down," Stevens confided.
Piano or organ? The piano is definitely Stevens' favorite.
"I can get a lot more expression out of a piano. My organ skills are self taught so I don't know how to get the levels. It is difficult plus I have a piano at home. That has been my sanctuary for years to lose myself at the piano," Stevens said. "But than there are times when you just want to pull out all the stops of the organ."
Good therapy, Stevens thinks.
At First Lutheran the organ is at the back of the church in a loft. The piano is on the main level of the church, near the alter. Imagine this lady finishing up an organ number, rushing down the loft stairs, than another flight to the basement, down the length of the church, up another set of stairs to the alter area and seated at the piano ready to play without anyone knowing she has even moved. No wonder leaving her music is one of those areas and needing it at another area is one of her greatest fears.
"And I do have dreams about being at a concert and ready to go on without having a clue what the music is and who I am accompanying," Stevens said grinning.
But what satisfaction this life of music is for Mary Stevens.
"The greatest satisfaction is that this music for it's highest calling is to praise God," Stevens said. "I feel that like a pastor, I have received a call to spread the gospel through music. It is very rewarding to see the music program build, not to the glory of the other musicians but for the glory of God."
And there is no better place for that music than in the church.
"Three hundred years ago music was centered in the churches. That is what I am trying to do. I think the church ought to be the center of music in the community," Stevens said.