Music Matters

April 2014

What Difference Does It Make?

Have you ever asked yourself, “What difference does it make?”—possibly when practicing hymns before a service; playing a prelude that hasn’t yet generated a “norm of meditation” among the early arrivers; or teaching a music lesson to an absolute beginner? In each case, the fruits of our labor may seem distant or even non-existent.

For moments like these, it may do us some good to reflect on how some other person’s humble service really has made a difference.

Dr. Oliver Clifton Houston, Jr.Consider the example of Dr. Oliver Houston. Here is a man who embraced a most humble assignment of music professor at a small private Midwestern college on the rural border of Iowa and Missouri. Others may have aspired to the concert halls and the biggest stages of the world or to be professor at a music school with the largest enrollment. But Dr. Houston’s sense of mission called him to serve in a much less conspicuous way.

So what difference did it make? Of his over 800 organ and music theory students from Graceland College, many have continued to professional careers in music. An even greater number continue to provide ministry of music in congregations and denominations all across the United States.

Dr. Houston, too, provided ministry that touched the hearts of worshipers for over 50 years. He played with passion and purpose regardless of how big the church or how many were gathered.

More important to me, though, was the ‘service’ of Dr. Houston after he retired to Independence, Missouri in 2010. It was only then that I met him as he became a faithful attendee of the organ demonstration programs on Sundays at Community of Christ headquarters.

He would always stay a few moments after the program to share a positive word with the performer for the day. Also, he often brought along some guest to introduce them to the power and ministry of music that meant so much in his life. His presence and praise was an inspiration to do even better… to practice and play with both skill and sensitivity to the spirit.

Dr. Houston passed away in early March. His memory challenges me to consider my own support of other musicians and the impact it might have if I were to emulate his ‘ministry of presence.’ He demonstrated that it is possible to make a real difference just by attending the programs, listening to the ministry of musicians both young and old in our congregations, and letting them know we appreciate their efforts.

—Blake West


Read more about Dr. Houston’s legacy:

Find out about the organ demonstrations and Fine Arts at Community of Christ headquarters, visit:

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If you have suggestions or ideas for future columns, please contact:

Jan Kraybill
Principal Organist
Community of Christ Headquarters
Independence, MO, USA


David Bolton
Worship and Music Support Specialist
Community of Christ Headquarters
Independence, MO, USA