By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ALBANY – Walking in the footsteps of her idols has taken Martha Frances Monroe to some of the world’s great houses of worship.
As a choral director, Monroe has traveled extensively throughout Europe. She’s played the organ during worship in such iconic churches as St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
“It’s a grand and glorious sound in praise of God,” Monroe said of the instrument that to her embodies classical beauty and refinement.
Monroe is the organist at First United Methodist Church in New Albany, and throughout her life she’s fine-tuned her musical acuity by playing in church.
At 16 Monroe became the organist at Hillcrest Baptist Church in New Albany. As a girl she emulated classical composers like Debussy, Ravel and Chopin, and after college she immersed herself in their work while studying in Paris.
Something of the old world of the great masters got into Monroe’s blood, and she has returned to Europe numerous times, most recently this summer, accompanying the Long Beach High School Concert Choir. She lived and taught in the coastal town for two decades.
The list of sites where Monroe has played reads like a pilgrim’s must see itinerary of Europe’s great churches, including St. Martin in the Fields Church in Trafalgar Square in London, St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice and La Madeleine in Paris.
Thursday morning Monroe sat in Judith Koehler’s room in the Sanctuary Hospice House. Blue light flooded in through the blinds as the elderly resident, wrapped in a pink blanket, watched Monroe turn the pegs and tune the guitar strings.
Monroe serves on Sanctuary’s executive board, and each week she sings to residents. Music has been her great companion throughout life, and she believes it brings comfort to the dying.
Monroe strummed the first chords, her fingers moving softly over the strings, producing a soothing, motherly sound.
“This is my father’s world,” she sang, her voice barely above a whisper. “I rest me in the thought, of rocks and trees, of skies and seas, his hand the wonders wrought.”
Like the music, Koehler’s energy seemed to rise and dissolve into the blue light. She could barely speak.
“They’re all such beautiful songs,” Koehler whispered, her voice hazy and delicate. Like an infant swooned by a lullaby, Koehler closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.