Gail Leven Pollock’s fingers scaled the treble clef on “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
Her ears have a permanent play button for all six verses of “Amazing Grace.” His eyes are ready for “When Morning Gilds the Skies” in the key of B flat… even at any time.
“Sight-reading is my life,” she laughs. “People are always sticking things in front of me, asking me to play. It all depends on how you look at the spots on the page.”
Gail has been looking at those dots, dots, flats and sharps as a church organist since the year the Volkswagen Beetle became the world’s best-selling car, back when you could feed a family of four at McDonald’s for less than $4.
Today, it’s her swan song at Riverside United Methodist Church, where she has sat on the Schantz organ for more than 50 years. She performed “Crown Him with Many Crowns” and “Holy, Holy, Holy” under 10 different music ministers.
Her latest Sunday morning playlist includes “All Creatures of Our God and King,” a hymn based on a poem by St. Francis of Assisi. She will perform a duet accompanied by Helen Adams on the piano. Its prelude will be Bach and, by special request, it will end with the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah”.
Although she is familiar with the musical order of the cult, she has no idea what she will feel when she reaches the last note of the page. No doubt a few tears will flow at his feet on the pedals below.
“I will probably be emotional,” she said.
His musical gifts have provided him with a metronome since he was 8 years old.
“My mother noticed that I always sat at other people’s pianos,” she said. “We didn’t have a piano, but we got an old right because of me.”
She took piano lessons with Ollie Tippett on Thomaston Road, then began learning the organ with Helen Rich at Mercer when she was 15.
She graduated from Miller High for Girls in 1965. That same year, she was paid professionally for the first time, playing piano for the musical “Oklahoma” at the Macon Little Theater.
She has taught corporate communication at Macon State College and Mercer. The late Earle Barnette, who was director of the Riverside Choir, convinced her to accept the position of church organist in October 1971. Barnette was a local music legend, a trombone player who played an instrumental role in launching elementary school music programs in the Bibb Public Schools, as well as the academy programs in Stratford and Covenant. He was also musical director of the Macon Little Theatre.
Riverside Methodist was chartered on November 3, 1957, and the first worship service was held on December 18, 1960. Gail played an electronic keyboard when the Riverside congregation worshiped in the community hall in the years before the opening of the sanctuary on November 13, 1977, which was also the first day of work for the new Schantz organ.
“It was intimidating when we first moved into the sanctuary,” she said. “It was a big church. I felt like any mistake I made was going to be magnified.
Gail teaches piano as an adjunct teacher at Mercer’s Townsend School of Music. She has 33 publications and arrangements for organ, piano, duets and choir hymns published under major names such as Shawnee Press, Warner Brothers, Lorenz and Abingdon Press.
She has performed for thousands of worship services and hundreds of weddings and funerals at the church on the hill between Pierce Avenue and Riverside Drive. She has accompanied choir concerts and opera productions, recitals and live theater productions.
“She provided music for every occasion, from carrying the weight of a cult, from prelude to postlude, and every call to music in between,” Adams said. “She’s played many brides down that long aisle and back again with a new name. And the countless funerals and memorial services were blessed with his choice of uplifting and comforting music that endeared Gail to the grieving hearts of an aging congregation.
The church will honor him today with these words:
Gail Leven Pollock
With appreciation for your faithful and loving dedication to excellence as you have served to elevate worship to a deeper hallelujah through your incredible gifts of music.
October 1, 1971 – May 15, 2022
Riverside United Methodist Church
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.