The High Notes (for Gloria Matthews)
By Trudy Wischemann
The musician Gloria Matthews left us last week, Tuesday. She had been serving Lindsay and all of Tulare County since she and her husband, Dr. Tom Matthews, moved here in 1969. Her memorial service was Friday at the Lindsay First Presbyterian Church, where members of her own Seventh Day Adventist congregation joined the Presbyterian choir members, former students, symphony members, neighbors, friends, and anyone who had ever known her to share their loss.
I met her when I joined the Presbyterian choir in 1998. To say she was the accompanist and the organist for that church just barely scratches the surface. But she was those things every Sunday morning for more than 20 years, retiring only recently when arthritis made her hands reluctant on the keyboard. Even though Gloria was soloist quality, she was exquisite as a team member, working in tandem with choir directors so completely that it made their work joy, which amplified the music the choirs were able to make. Which, of course, was the goal.
Gloria’s first love was the violin, which she played in the Tulare County Symphony as well as chamber groups over the years. When she played, the notes soared. She could hit the high notes pure and sweet, completely on pitch whether softly or loud. She also had a beautiful soprano voice and could hit the high notes equally well and beautifully when she sang. One Sunday morning, when the Presbyterians’ choir was missing its key sopranos, Mel Tully, the director, asked Gloria to fill in, which she did from the piano bench while playing. What I remember is that the lowered, wood-lined ceiling over the piano served as a shell, and her notes sailed out into the congregation like a blessing.
I only heard her make one mistake in all the years I knew her. She had arranged for me to join the high school choir, for which she was also the accompanist, on my flute. The director had written a flute accompaniment to “They Shall Soar Like Eagles,” and we took that song all the way to the county contest at L.J. Williams Theater. We were nearly the last to perform, and it was late afternoon. The song went beautifully, and we were holding our breath as the choir’s last notes died out, waiting for the piano to put the period on that musical sentence. Perhaps it was the excitement, the beauty of the song, but the baby finger on Gloria’s left hand found the wrong key for that last note. I will never forget the shock on her face. It may have been her first wrong note in decades.
A few years ago Gloria suffered a stroke. I saw her at the post office one day after she’d recovered, much thinner, the light gone from her smile. I asked her how she was doing. She looked down at the counter where she’d placed her hands, and said “Trudy — I’ve lost my music. All my music.” There was nothing to say but “I’m so sorry.” I hope I hugged her. But the tragedy of that hung on my heart for days and has not left me. It was a deep reminder to pick up my flute more often and make music with people whenever possible.
So, friends, any of you who have been blessed to know Gloria and been helped in your own music by her accompaniment, her encouragement, her making musical openings for you to play and sing, thank the good Lord for that. And take that gift she gave you—for free—and use it while you can. Let the notes sail out of you. And every once in awhile, reach for the high ones, just to remember what it means to be able to do that.
Trudy Wischemann is a flute player who writes. You can send her your memories of Gloria c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.