Organist has passion for playing

January 07, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Fifty years ago, Sarah Zimmerman sat down at a brand new Moller organ at the Waynesboro Presbyterian Church. She's been playing it ever since.

Playing the organ has been the one constant in Zimmerman's life - through 13 years of caring for her husband, Robert A. Zimmerman, following an accident that robbed him of a normal life until he died in 1997, through watching her two children grow up in the family home on Clayton Avenue through more than a half century of life.

Playing the instrument that sits to the left of the altar of the 250-plus-year-old church at 105 E. Main St., has brought Zimmerman, 77, decades of what she calls "planning, preparation and pleasure."


She can be found almost any Friday and Saturday morning at the church organ, selecting and practicing music for the 10:30 a.m. Sunday service.

Sometimes she's there for two to three hours at a time, testament to the dedication she has put into the duty over the years.

"That's a hard question to answer," Zimmerman said when asked what she gets out of playing.

"What is it about golf or tennis that pleases some people. How do you define that? It's a pleasure for me. I just love playing it," she said.

Zimmerman grew up in Harrisburg, Pa. She started taking piano lessons in the fourth grade, but even after eight years of piano she knew that one day she would play the organ.

She learned to play the organ at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., from which she graduated in 1945.

Her first job was playing for a church in Harrisburg in 1946.

She met her husband in college and the couple moved to Waynesboro in 1950.

He retired as chairman of the music department of the Waynesboro Area School District in 1982.

Sarah Zimmerman taught music part time in the district.

"I was going to quit playing when my husband died," she said. "My children and people in the church talked me into going on."

Through the years, until the accident, Robert A. Zimmerman was the church choir director. "It was something we did together," she said.

She accompanies the church choir and the congregation with the usual hymns every Sunday, she said. "But that's just a minor thing. I get to select the music for the prelude, offertory and postlude. I have hundreds of music to choose, from Bach to contemporary."

Zimmerman said she has no favorites. "I like all of the music I play. I just like playing the organ."

Her son, Robert R. Zimmerman, 51, a local dentist, remembered the Sunday in 1964 when a heavy snowstorm closed every church in town except the Presbyterian Church. He said the pastor wanted to have at least one church open that day. The Zimmermans - father, mother, son and daughter - walked to church for the 10:30 a.m. service.

"There were only about 14 people there, including the pastor's family and our family," her son said.

Occasionally, Zimmerman plays at other churches for weddings and funerals.

She stopped giving piano lessons in her home, but she still goes to Waynesboro Area Senior High School regularly to accompany the student choral groups.

As for the organ, she said she doesn't know when she'll stop playing.

"I'm hoping the Lord will tell me when to quit. I hope I know when to quit," she said. "Sometimes you can hang on too long."

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