Seven: Singing With de Hart


 Imagine the difficulties for a moment. Getting that many people to stand still, much less having them face the bright sunlight in their choir robes. Expecting the youngest children to remain motionless at the front without supervision. No fidgeting. No bothering your neighbors. Asking them all to look into the camera. And with an expression befitting the importance of the occasion. And, of course, no scowls or inappropriate faces from any of the young men clustered in the center of the photograph.

And they did. There they stand–The First Methodist Choral Union in May of 1955. One has to be impressed with the professional-looking result, though a closer examination does reveal heads turned here and there, a few eyes closed, and one or two less-than-enthusiastic expressions.

On the far left, wearing an appropriately proud smile is the man most responsible for this assemblage–Mr. George L. DeHart. His tenure at Midland forever changed the music program of the church.

First Methodist Choral Union May 1955

In October, 1950 The Midland Methodist, First Methodist’s church newspaper, resumed publication after a three year period of inactivity. As it had in its earlier years, each issue included a weekly church calendar, activity reports of different groups within the church, and messages from church staff.

The initial October 5 issue also contained a message from the new Ministry of Music Director. George L. DeHart, a graduate of Westminister Choir College, Princeton, New Jersey, had assumed his duties on September 1. DeHart expressed his excitement at being in charge of the First Methodist Music Ministry and the warm welcome he had received. He began work on implementing a Westminister Plan of graded choirs which would “provide an opportunity for people of all age levels to develop the art of Christian leadership through music.”

The hiring of DeHart marked the first time the church employed a professional Minister of Music. In prior years, various volunteers or part-time staff led the music program. Pianist and organist were also church members who assumed those duties. While volunteers remained an important portion of the music program, it would hereafter be led by a paid staff member.

DeHart organized a set of choirs to encompass all ages. The Carol Choir included children in Grades 1 through 3. Fourth through Sixth graders formed the Junior Choir. The Youth Choir included Grades 7 through 12. Adults, and sometimes advanced youth singers, made up the Chancel Choir. DeHart also instituted a handbell program for young boys in grades 7 through 9, whose changing voices often created problems for their singing.

The success of this program eventually led to the formation of an adult handbell choir in the fall of 1965. A pioneer ecumenical group of seven women (representing six different churches) formed the first choir as a fun way to perform community service. Their first performance was for the Golden Agers, one of the adult Sunday groups, in December of that year. They played for a variety of venues, including the First National Bank during the Christmas season.

The Schantz Sanctuary Organ was dedicated on May 5, 1968 in a special evening Dedicatory Recital.

When Mrs. Raiford Burton, in memory of her husband, underwrote the purchase of a Schantz pipe organ in 1968, DeHart, planned the components of the instrument, which eventually grew into a fifty-one rank pipe organ. Since its installation, that organ has been played by a number of outstanding musicians, including several of the Worship Arts Directors.

George DeHart remained the leader of the First Methodist music program for an amazing 29 1/2 years, finally retiring in December 1979. Over the years, he directed many special worship programs for the church and performed in numerous community events. The handbell choir became an all First Methodist group and grew to include men. They continue to perform on a regular basis.

With DeHart’s departure, Ted and Candace Markle accepted the leadership of the program for a couple of years. They would be followed by many directors over the years, some staying for nultiple years, but none approaching the tenure of DeHart.

Children and Youth Choir perform in the 1980s

The Worship Arts program would remain professionally led, except during the interim periods between directors. Each new director benefited from the foundation of his or her predecessors.

Changing times brought an expanded program of music in worship. The formation of a Contemporary Worship Service involved a new group of performers who brought different instruments (guitars, drums) into the services. The children and youth choirs evolved into slightly different formats and the boys handbell choir disbanded.

The De Hart Trumpet still remains a selection on the Sanctuary organ.

The organ designed by DeHart almost a half-century ago continues to occupy an important role in Sunday morning worship in the Sanctuary.

As the notes of this impressive instrument roll out across the room, blending with the voices of the Chancel Choir, First Methodist’s worship music still comes, in a sense, from DeHart.

NEXT: Commemorating Change

One Response to “Seven: Singing With de Hart”

  1. Sharon Breith Heidelberg says:

    In the first black & white picture, I am standing on the front row. I was in the 1st grade and continued through high school. I sang with the McMurry Chanters part of my college years. We moved back to Midland and I started singing in the Chancel Choir.
    Also, the jr high kids were called Jr High girls choir and Jr High boys choir. The High school kids were in the Vesper Choir.