Organist's music crosses boundaries of belief

April 11, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

Marge Peacher doesn't read Hebrew, but she expresses the emotional meaning of Jewish prayers in a language she knows well - music.

She's Episcopalian, but she has taken part in Jewish worship services at a Hagerstown synagogue every Friday evening for the past 20 years.

Peacher, 83, is at home behind the small organ in the balcony at Congregation B'nai Abraham.

The Star of David crowning a stained glass window flanks Peacher to her left as she uses her hands and feet to create sacred melodies for the worshippers in the pews below. The choir to her right brings comfort to the accomplished organist, who considers herself a simple accompanist to their musical prayers.


"The choir is my support. I'm not a soloist. I don't like to perform - it scares the daylights out of me," Peacher said. "I think of myself as a bench-sitter here - not very important at all. But they say I am."

The congregation at B'nai Abraham recently paid tribute to Peacher's 20 years of service with a ceremony. She was honored for her dedication to the synagogue and her profession, Rabbi Janice Garfunkel said.

"She really has added so much to our worship. She does her work as a service to God," Garfunkel said. "Her faithfulness to her profession is also inspiring."

An Ohio native, Peacher majored in organ and minored in piano at Oberlin College. She graduated in 1942 and began a master's program in sacred music at Union Theological Seminary in New York. She earned her master's degree in 1944.

Peacher has been an organist in Hagerstown churches - including Zion Evangelical and Reformed Church, and St. John's Episcopal Church - since she accepted her first position at First Christian Church in 1945, she said.

She accepted the organist job at B'nai Abraham in 1982 because she thought it would be "a broadening and interesting experience," she said. "I enjoy learning new things. I didn't think they'd put up with me this long."

Outside the Temple, Peacher enjoys playing Bach on the organ and Mozart on the piano. She traces her love of music to her childhood piano lessons.

"It was the thing I loved most," she said.

She learned about Judaism as a child through her "Aunt Bessie," a Jewish woman who was a dear friend of Peacher's mother and who helped fund Peacher's master's degree program in sacred music from Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Peacher saw firsthand the tragedy of the Holocaust when she was a teenager. A Polish doctor staying with Aunt Bessie "sweated blood" as he listened to news of the Nazi invasion of his homeland in 1938, Peacher said.

The Nazis murdered the father of a German family with whom Peacher and her brother stayed during a student exchange in 1937, presumably because of his friendships with Jews in Berlin, she said.

As a young woman just beginning her pursuit of music as a career, Peacher never imagined that she would one day give music to the prayers of the religion that made such an impression upon her as a youth, she said.

"But when you look back, you can almost see a plan to your life," she said.

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