On Sunday afternoon, in the fellowship hall of Hillyer Memorial Christian Church, the congregation and the community celebrated 50 years of music-making by Paul and Johnnie Conway and bid farewell to them as he retires as director of choral music there. There were speeches and remarks by numerous church dignitaries and by composer Tom Lohr, whose setting of verses from Psalms 95 and 96, "O Come, Let Us Sing unto the Lord," was premiered during worship services earlier on January 22 in honor of Conway. He was also presented the State's highest (civilian) honor for service, The Order of the Longleaf Pine. All this was a good and fitting celebration for half a century of music making at the church and 42 concurrent years of service as director of the Hillyer Community Chorus, whose last concert under Conway's baton was given in December. There were no formal toasts, but the place was awash in good feelings and thankfulness - for all that music, and for the Conways' quick recovery from injuries resulting from a recent automobile accident. And then, when all the salutations were done, Paul Conway took the microphone for a few farewell remarks:
"We appreciate everyone coming to this gathering. It is a bittersweet occasion for Johnnie and me. Bitter because it ends the challenge and joy of our music ministry, but sweet because it includes 50 years of happiness, filled with memories. As the Mendelssohn quote on the Community Chorus' December 4 program cover said, 'music is truly a blessed gift of God.'
"In my life I have found music to be a blessed gift in and of itself, but I have found another major reason to like music is that it allows us to enjoy being with each other - and, for me, that camaraderie is the real love of music. These 50 years have been filled with many singers, players, and audiences, and I have found it difficult to produce music and not be happy - so now you know my secret!
"Adequately expressing the joys and blessings of a 50-year career in a few sentences is impossible, so it will have to suffice for me to tell you that there have been thousands of people, singers, players, and listeners to whom I am eternally grateful - for allowing me the opportunity to express myself through music. Through that sharing we have praised God and provided musical blessings for the congregations and audiences for whom we have performed. We could not have had a more fulfilling musical and religious career than what Hillyer has afforded us. Truly, the genuine gratification is the sincere worship of our Lord both through the music and through those who make and enjoy the music!
"Therefore we wish for continued blessings and successes to all as we go forward: 'I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.' (Ps. CIV:33)
"Johnnie and I wish each of you Godspeed and may your life be filled with music. We both thank you from the bottoms of our hearts."
-- Paul B. Conway, 1/22/12