Music means history at Old Post Chapel
January 30, 2014
JOINT BASE MEYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - Randall Sheets' fingers glided effortlessly across the keys of the organ at Old Post Chapel on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and the beginning of a smile tugged at his lips as he brought one of the most used musical instruments in the country to life Jan. 28.
"We do a thousand funerals a year," said Sheets. "Four a day, five days a week and if you think about that, that's been happening for decades now." The nearly 80-year-old organ was commissioned by then-Maj. George S. Patton Jr. was installed in the chapel in 1934-1935 and has been in almost constant use ever since.
Along with Alvin Gustin and Glendon Frank, Sheets serves as a ceremonial organist for the base chapels.
About 70 percent of the trio's work week is spent supporting Arlington National Cemetery's mission, he said.
After 16 years behind the keyboards here, Sheets said he is still moved by each ceremony.
"It still gives me chills sometimes when I walk out and see the caisson and when you hear about these men and women, about their lives, what they've done. It's just really humbling," said Sheets, who began studying music in 4th grade and earned his doctor of musical arts from The University of Maryland.
Sheets said many World War II veterans whose funerals are held at the Old Post Chapel have also had their weddings there and sometimes even these same veteran's children have been baptized and married there.
"In many ways, this is the Army's home chapel," he said. "It's rewarding to be part of that kind of history. I'm just one spoke in the wheel."
In addition to funerals, the ceremonial organists also perform at weddings and at special programs during the Advent and Lenten liturgical seasons, as well as special programs such as the Christmas and Epiphany concert held earlier this month at Old Post Chapel.
Sheets said the hectic holiday season and the fact that the Christmas season ends 12 days after Dec. 25 made Jan. 5 the perfect date to hold the event.
"People aren't pulled out every night of the week for functions, and it's still the Christmas season," he said.
The concert opened up with performances by trumpeter Charles Seipp and flutist Carol Kilroy. The Chapel Ringers also performed and the audience sang several hymns. The Fort Myer Ecumenical Choir, composed of the choirs of the Catholic and Protestant congregations, sang others.
"It was a really nice idea to pull the congregational communities together," noted Sheets.
In all, 120 people attended the performance and approximately 35 musicians performed.
"It really is very rewarding when something like this comes together and you can feel that energy," he said. "In this particular program, when we got to the last piece, which was The First Noel, it just gives you goose bumps."