No azaleas or dogwoods? So what?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Folks in Charleston, Mo., know how to have fun and provide a good time for anyone showing up for the annual azalea and dogwood festival a month after the blossoms have peaked.

Have an extravagant lawn party, for example, one where the women dress up and wear fancy hats and where the men wear blazers and straw boaters. What fun they were having last Saturday while tour buses idled up and down the beautifully manicured streets.

OK. There were fewer blooms this year, but the ribbons and special decorations were still beautiful. And all the other activities -- carnival, crafts booths, parade, art displays -- were going at full tilt.

And then there's the Piano Praise Concert at the First Baptist Church.

This year, the beautiful church auditorium was decked out in floral garlands and twinkling lights that reflected off the raised lids of six grand pianos plus a spinet tucked in a small corner. The concert featured 10 accomplished pianists led by Betty Hearnes, longtime church music director, former first lady of Missouri and no-nonsense leader of congregational singing.

If you miss the downbeat at the start of "God Bless America," don't expect Betty Hearnes not to notice. "That was terrible," she said after the audience at Saturday's concert, many of them arriving on tour buses, made its first run-through. So she made us sing it again. With gusto, this time.

My wife and I took advantage, about a month ago, of the dogwoods and azaleas at their peak, so we were doubly blessed this year: beautiful blooms in March and beautiful music in April.

The Piano Praise Concert's 10 performers need special attention. They are Betty Hearnes, of course, Deidre Ellis Reed, Meekee Morgan Graham, Terry Allen Parker, Melissa DeLine Graham, Kerry Davis, Mary Katherine McMikle Branum, Jackie Huffman, Tom Graham and Nancy Bird. They come from all over Southeast Missouri, but mostly from the Charleston area. Some studied piano at Southeast Missouri State University. Others took private lessons. Many are church pianists or organists.

Speaking of organs, the last section of the concert featured the pianists and the church's pipe organ. The audience loved it all, and everyone left feeling good about the concert, about Charleston, about our nation.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone involved in making Charleston such a special place to live and to visit. It's still the prettiest small town in America.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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