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Story and photos by Jeannie Dortch.

It is said that behind every successful man is a great woman, but behind Phil Mitchell, FBC’s Associate Pastor, Ministry of Music, sit two women volunteers who help his ministry run like a well-oiled antique pocket watch. At ages 84 and 85 respectively, Charlotte Brown and Jean Crowder mimic computer programmers but use pencils and legal pads rather than keyboards to input their data.

Unsung but in tune.They meet every Monday morning secreted away in the church’s music library behind the choir room where they are surrounded by more than 1,000 numbered file boxes filled with multiple copies of sheet music, some of which has been used since 1955.

Alton Howell, part-time music director in the 1950s, instituted the idea of keeping copies and a record of the names and dates of every piece of music sung or played at FBC. Ray Herbek, who served as FBC’s first full-time music minister, 1962-1989, refined the process and Charlotte, along with other choir members, started helping Ray in 1988. Since 1992, Jean has been Charlotte’s permanent helper.

Susan Marshall, FBC’s music secretary, orders the music, after which Charlotte and Jean process the acquisitions by sorting and stamping it for one of the church’s six choirs or for orchestral and instrumental pieces. According to Susan, “After they have catalogued the hard copies, they complete a data form with the title, publisher, composer/arranger, library number, voicing, scriptural or thematic emphasis, number of copies, and purchase and processing date. They bring that data form to me and I enter all that information into the computer.”

Unsung but in tune.Both the digital and hand-copied versions are used by the music staff. The computer program is on a shared network and allows staff to sort music by content fields. Searching by composer, by relationship to the lectionary passages of the week, or by music that highlights a certain time of year are examples of how the computer may be used to quickly locate a desired piece.

“Charlotte and Jean’s method is disciplined, methodical, clear and intuitive, and I use it often,” commented Phil. “Each anthem is listed numerically as well as alphabetically. When retrieving an anthem from a file, I can refer to a notation in each box indicating which, if any, anthems are missing. This enables me to track it to the choir member who last used it.”

Because computer hard drives can crash, Charlotte is adamant about the importance of having a written record of the church’s musical purchases. Phil admitted that having the library record greatly reduces the risk of loss and is a comfort. But with the digitized version of the music resources, he is able to check something he needs to know from his office or from his laptop after hours or when he is out of town.

There are always some things a computer cannot do. At the heart of the system organized and run by Charlotte and Jean is the personal touch. A computer cannot punch holes in the music, nor can it insert anthems alphabetically into choir members’ folders. Retrieving music each week and after special performances for refiling is also not a computer skill. The work these women do is invaluable, and without them, chaos would ensue, but they enjoy it tremendously.

“I like order and seeing things in their proper place,” said Charlotte. “I got this trait from my mother so, as a member of the choir, I enjoy helping in the way I was taught.”

Jean continued, “Anything I can do to help the church, Phil Mitchell, and the choir, is an obligation I gladly assume. Plus, since I was an auditor, I too like order so I am naturally good at this job.”

Choir member and Handbell Choir Director, Ruth Szucs, effused about Charlotte and Jean, “They are wonderful, loyal, helpful, organized, faithful, and responsible. Our music ministry fully relies on them. They even anticipate difficulties that may arise with our future schedules.”

And from Susan, “If I had to do what they do every week, I would not have time to do any of my other work. I feel that I am a complement to the work they do, but they are the ones who keep the music library organized and functioning.”

Sing Charlotte and Jean’s praises the next time you see them as theirs is a tune that should not remain unsung!

Author’s note: When Charlotte or Jean is indisposed, Allen Brown, Dot Canipe, and Pat Jones are willing substitutes.

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