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Our Amazing Public Performances

Phyl: When our family visited the churches I had to play my best piano piece, which was fine. We also had to sing "I'm going home on the morning train," which I didn't like much. Poor Dad. He was doing his best.

My first public piano performance took place in Kodai in a small room near the dining hall, as one of Miss Page's pupils. Stricken with stage fright I marched to the piano, played a one-page march, and returned to my seat. The only comment I remember, from some adult in a surprised voice, was that I had played the piece very fast.


I suppose I looked forward with dread and resignation to the family performances in the churches at the evening missions conferences. I had to play the Holy City on the clarinet. I think Betty accompanied me. We didn't have enough money for me to get good wooden reeds, so I had to use plastic ones, but these sounded terrible and they were often broken so I squeaked alot. I am sure the audience was glad when I got through.

I also remember being farmed out to various families for the night. One night I was in the attic with a young boy in Larson, Montana, a distant relative's house. Unfortunately, to say good-night I said, "Good-night, don't let the bed bugs bite." He thought that that was hilarious. A little later he said, "Good night, and don't let the ants bite." And a little later, "Good night and don't let the mosquitoes bite." And a little later, "Good night and don't let the bears bite." So it went for an hour and we didn't get to sleep for a long time. Wish I had never said that.

(To help Paul with these memories, here are the words to the Holy City. And I think ALL of us were tense, waiting for the next squawk....)

Original lyrics by Frederick E. Weatherly
Set by Stephen Adams

Last night I lay a-sleeping
There came a dream so fair,
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there.
I heard the children singing,
And ever as they sang,
Me thought the voice of angels
From heaven in answer rang.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Lift up your gates and sing,
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your King!

And then me thought my dream was changed,
The streets no longer rang,
Hushed were the glad Hosannas
The little children sang.
The sun grew dark with mystery,
The morn was cold and chill,
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Hark! How the angels sing,
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna to your King!

And once again the scene was changed;
New earth there seemed to be;
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea;
The light of God was on its streets,
The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter,
And no one was denied.
No need of moon or stars by night,
Or sun to shine by day;
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away.

Jerusalem! Jerusalem!
Sing for the night is o'er!
Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna for evermore!

(To hear a version of this, go to: and download the song. Brings back so many memories!)


One of my vivid memories of performing for a church was when Paul and I went with Dad to an Indian reservation. Mom and Dad and the younger ones of our family were spending some time in Mt. Lake before going back to India the last time. Dad went to preach at some of the churches in South Dakota and northern Nebraska where he had been an itinerant preacher before he got married, and he decided to take the two of us along.

Many of the older people we met remembered Dad and they were laughing and talking about old times. My guess is that he wasn't a great horse rider from their comments. It was strange to hear them call him "Johnny." The folks at the reservation had made him an honorary member of their tribe (not sure which tribe...Sioux?) and I was so proud of his being a blood brother of theirs.

I remember it was cold outside and not very many people were Christians so the audience was small. Paul played his clarinet and I accompanied him on the piano. He played his famous (or infamous) rendition of The Holy City, something most of us siblings remember!

When we were young, I didn't mind being a part of the family performances when we went out to the churches while on furlough. I felt best when we were singing Telegu songs since the audience wouldn't know if we made mistakes. As I got older, I didn't enjoy doing this as much. I usually had to play a piano solo (often Liebestraum, since I knew that one well) and would accompany Paul when he played. While I attended Tabor College, Marj Dick and Ruth & Irene Wiebe would try to get me to sing alto with them in church programs; sometimes I'd do this, but often would not. I didn't enjoy singing; I preferred accompanying someone.

When we returned from India the last time, we had to perform in the Hillsboro MB Church one evening. I was embarrassed and felt this was beneath me. Ironically, Carl tells me that it was during this performance that he first saw me and thought he'd like to get to know me better. So maybe having to be a part of these family displays wasn't all bad....

Mom used to say she never enjoyed these performances either, except when she sang duets with Dad. They used to sound so good together.


We would travel across the US from California to Minnesota and back, stopping at Mennonnite churches along the way - saved on motels by the way. When we arrived we usually were fed at the church or by the minister. Then we would provide the evening program. We sang as a family, Paul played a clarinet solo, some did piano solos or duets, Grace played the violin, and Joanne and I sang, "Angry Words, Oh Let Them Never, from my lips unbounded fall...." all the while pinching and shoving, continuing the fight that had preceded our demonstration of love and affection. The most touching was Mom and Dad's duet which still can make me cry.

While we sat on the platform, I looked over the audience, wondering who was going to pick me to take home for the night, fearful that they might not pair me up with Joanne. Of course, noboby had room for all of us so we were taken in in pairs by volunteers who then took us home and quizzed us about our lives or, worse yet, didn't ask anything but sent us straight to bed.

I was always too young to understand the bigger picture of why we were doing this, only knowing that we were different from everyone else here in the Promised Land of America.


Okay. I LOVED being on stage with the family, singing Telegu songs and duets with Gwen. Actually, I probably would have preferred it if the rest of the family hadn't been up there with me. I knew everyone was looking at me and thinking how talented I was. Like Bets, I thought I was so superior because I could sing in Telegu (although I had no idea what I was singing), but unlike Bets I also would talk "Telegu" (my own version of gibberish Telegu) to friends to show off. I don't remember any of them asking me to repeat things, which would have been disastrous.

Singing with Gwen was an experience. She always poked me in the ribs and would whisper very loudly in between verses, telling me I was singing too loud. Everyone in the audience could hear her through the microphone. When we were in Kodai she also complained that I was playing the bass parts too loud when we played duets. Complain, complain---and here I was doing a perfect rendition. And I looked so cute.


Since I was not able to lend my considerable abilities to the family performances at churches I thought I would write about the occasional mini performance at missionary get togethers in India. It turns out that it's just as well that Dad didn't have to deal with me and getting in front of people in a serious situation - I was never able to take any of it seriously. All through middle school and high school I was subject to giggle fits which would start at any serious thought and last for hours, causing frowning missionaries to think that I was a flippant, disrepectful, irreligious child.

Example: at Paul's house in Shamshabad there was an assembly of august missionaries at Christmas time one year. We, the children, were to do some readings from the Bible. My portion was a section on "Mary, Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." As soon as I read that I envisioned this very large manger with Mary, Joseph and the babe all lying in it covered with hay. That vision was enough to set off the giggle fits which got worse the more I thought about these three trying to move around, etc.... Anyway, it was hopeless and I was removed from the scene to contemplate my sins in the bedroom. I don't know if I got lunch either - but I did get alot of frowns.

This also occurred when I went on an exchange program to an Indian women's college, Lady Doak, in Madurai. We were supposed to sing but I just giggled. So you can see I wouldn't have helped your cause, or Dad's, at all if I had been with you on stage.

Big sigh of relief that I didn't have to perform much and Dad didn't have to be embarrassed!