Southern Baptist Part 4
I applied to two Baptist-affiliated colleges, Samford University in Birmingham, and Belmont University, in my hometown of Nashville. My parents, especially my father, felt strongly about me staying close to home. I am sure he was pleased when I found myself on the waiting list for Samford and therefore, Belmont bound.
I entered Belmont as a music major in piano and voice. My piano teacher, Vernettie Currin, a fellow First Baptist Church member, did her best to prepare me for the piano audition, as did my high school music teacher, Henry Arnold, for the vocal audition. I began as a piano major in 1970 with a grandmotherly-type professor that wielded a ruler – often used to swat my knuckles. The following year, I changed professors to a very intense gentleman, whose wife felt obligated to give me a reality check when she made a beeline for me at an event. The conversation began by asking me to confirm my father owned an insurance agency. She then delivered the one-two punch by asking if I had ever considered going into the family business – followed by her thought that I might be more suited for insurance than music.
Eventually, I did change my major, from piano, to voice. This resulted in being called into the Dean’s office. He was kind – saying I had talent – but felt I needed to change professors to improve. Archie Kliewer, also a member of my home church, became my new voice teacher. His one frustration with me, was not that I sang in the bass/baritone range, but that my speaking voice sounded like a tenor. It became quite comical when he insisted I speak in a deeper register when addressing him.
First Baptist Church had a small mission back then located not too far from the main church campus. Carroll Street Chapel met in a historic church building that had been built when grand homes were it’s neighbors. However, an interstate came through and divided the neighborhood. The homes, torn down and replaced by low-income projects, created a congregation of elderly whites and younger African-Americans.
As a music student, I was offered the part-time position of Carroll Street Chapel’s music director by my Western Civilization professor. He served as the minister and his wife, the Dean of Women at Belmont, taught Sunday School. There was also a seriously-minded Belmont student that briefly served as the associate pastor. This young man and I lived in the same dorm and nightly he would step into the hall utility closet to pray. One evening, some pranksters open the door of the closet, tossed in a lit firecracker and closed the door. The poor young man felt he had witnessed the second coming as he frantically fled, from what had become his sanctuary, into the hallway of onlookers.
I will admit to not being the best of students. I did fine in classes that interested me, but barely got by, and sometimes failed, those that did not. Western Civilization was the first of my failures, although, the second time around, with a different professor, I passed with flying colors. One Sunday morning, the parents of my pastor/professor visited Carroll Street Chapel. His wife introduced me to them with the explanation that I had been one of his students, adding the tagline: “But he failed his class.”
I remained at Carroll Street Chapel longer than my professor and was delighted to have had the opportunity to welcome his replacement.
J. Ronald M. York, author of Kept in the Dark, is also an accomplished musician and founder of York & Friends Fine Art Gallery.
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