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Remembering John Fulda

by Dale Jorgenson

The congregation sits expectantly, until the first chords of Handel’s glorious recitative sound in the little church: From the warm assurances of Isaiah 40 the clear tenor voice addresses the audience, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.”

Nine years the little church in Missouri hosted what came to be dubbed “The Perry Passion,” when people from eclectic locations and connections with the host congregation came together to render Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Haydn’s The Creation, or another choral masterpiece based upon Scripture for an appreciative audience, likewise gathered from a wide mix of backgrounds in geographic origin, church membership, and musical experience. And year after year, that same tenor voice greeted the expectant congregation where, as in so many other venues, the beautiful tenor of John Fulda greeted the waiting worshippers and music lovers who became close friends with the owner of that voice.

One year John preached for the host church in the morning, telling us that he had recently learned some new ideas about Gospel preaching and that he was eager to exercise those new means of telling the precious message. After preaching in the morning and a quick lunch, it was time for him to stand with the choral group and proclaim God’s Word through music. The Lord blessed him with unusual endurance and he was able to do it all in the course of a few hours, empowered, we believed, by the Holy Spirit.

Using his rich musical gifts for the glory of the Lord and the blessing of His people was a lifelong driver for John. From instructing young people at the Antioch and Woodland Bible Camps, leading singing in a capella congregations of the Churches of Christ, to the decades spent mentoring students in Burgin, Kentucky and his hometown of Amite, Louisiana in both band and choral music, conducting the choir at Southeastern Christian College, this leitmotif of service was a major factor in what kept him going, what continued to motivate him in his chosen life work. From a small town not far from Lake Pontchartrain in southern Louisiana, he made the jump to the enormous Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he met and admired an eminent choral conductor. Impressed and moved by the musical experience, John was not quite ready for the mega-school environment, and decided to join many of his Christian friends at tiny Southeastern Christian College in Winchester, Kentucky about 1956. Here his leadership skills blossomed, he became a vital component in the choral program, and he was enabled to grow spiritually surrounded by some giants of the Word—Frank Mullins, George Knepper, LaVern Houtz, and others.

After two years at Winchester he was ready to go back to LSU and complete what he had begun under the excellent choral conductor, Dallas Draper. Still eager to develop his musical talents, he later completed the master’s degree at Southeast Louisiana State University where he enjoyed experience in musical theater, oratorio, and choral music. John was an avid fan of the LSU Tigers, both the football team and the band. He related the fond experience of arriving before the band warmup to hear the college musicians begin their musical presentation with a hymn tune, perhaps Amazing Grace.

During his tenure as choral director at Southeastern Christian College, I was invited to come from Bethany, West Virginia to Winchester to conduct the powerful German Requiem by Johannes Brahms. John had carefully prepared the chorus for the presentation, and in the absence of an  orchestra made arrangements for the concert in a local Winchester church which had a pipe organ. The difficult score was played by his wife Clytae Fulda, herself an excellent musician and a fine organist. The texts of that Requiem, chosen by Brahms himself, speak to the last phase of John’s life on earth:

The second movement begins with two verses from I Peter 1:24-25, “Behold, all flesh is as the grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower fades, but the word of the Lord abides forever.” As the strings and woodwind repeat a wailing accompaniment in the minor mode, the idea is repeated softly and then fortissimo. The vicissitudes of frail human life, with our cancer and heart attacks and old age are etched unforgettably in the music. But the abrupt turn in the next section distinguishes the Christian Hope, which was the very core of John’s faith, from the sorrow of grass-like human life: “The redeemed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing: Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10).

We of course cannot know now what kind of responsibilities John may be given in his eternal life. We do know, however, what a powerful legacy of service, love and joy he left behind with every one whose life he touched. And the final word, drawn from Revelation 14:13, is the text for the last chorus  in the German Requiem he prepared so carefully and the last Beatitude in Scripture: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth, that they may rest from their labors, for their works do follow them.” And as we recollect that beautiful voice singing, “Comfort ye my people,” may the Word of the Lord bring comfort to all who loved John Fulda.

 

Dr. Dale Jorgenson is a retired college professor both in Bible and in Music.

 

Editor’s note:  Bro. John Fulda went home to be with His Lord on Oct. 8th.

 




One Response to “Remembering John Fulda”

  1. Bob Yarbrough says:

    Thank you Dale. a powerful remembrance! Janet and I were privileged to be in his choir at SCC that year you came. We both loved John. If fact we asked him to sing in our wedding in 1962. The song he sang was “O Master Let Me Walk With Thee”. That was not only our prayer – it was his too. He walked with his Master and now he is at rest in the arms of Jesus. Will be glad to see him again when Christ returns with all his saints.



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