Sunday, August 13, 2017

Rodney McElrea, 1938-2017

Rodney McElrea

There are so many people that I wish I had met. One of these, Rodney McElrea, died just a few weeks ago, his funeral at Omagh Gospel Hall in County Tyrone. For the time being at least I’ll not be able to meet him. There are some excellent articles about him on Richard Hawkins' Bluegrass Ireland Blog (see here and also here), and a 2012 PhD thesis about his life as a collector, by Eve Olney (see here). Rodney’s name is inscribed across the ocean, on the gravestone of Charlie Poole. 

Rodney had been a member of the Hall in Omagh since 1966; for those of you who know, many Brethren Halls have no music at all, and some only at the evening service, and so this makes it even more interesting that music was such a major part of his life.

In my own experience, I can recall being challenged by an older man - via a sermon - at the Hall I grew up in when he discovered I was learning to play the guitar. Our family did the Gospel Hall on a Sunday morning (my father’s influence) and a Mission Hall in the evening (my mother’s influence) - and the Sunday School at each - four meetings every Sunday! The mission hall was where my own musical inspiration came from. My ‘crime’ was that I had been spotted playing the guitar at Frances Street Gospel Hall youth fellowship in Newtownards one Sunday night, and the following Sunday morning back in Portavogie the man launched a sermonette about “hippies with banjos in the meetings”. I kid you not. Words like that don’t get forgotten! I moved on a few years afterwards.

Here’s another post on Bluegrass Ireland which refers to my friend Andy Gordon, one of those people who has been a regular encouragement to me over the years, and who was a close friend of Rodney's). I managed to find Andy the music for the hymn which was sung at Rodney’s funeral, from the Redemption Songs hymn book, which is posted below.

As well as this hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and Amazing Grace were sung. The night before Rodney died, Andy and I met up at a coffee shop in Bangor to marvel at a lovely old Gibson mandolin, and I got glared at by another customer for daring to play it a bit. I’m hoping that it makes an appearance at one of our ‘open house’ music evenings later in the year.

Music is really important. So is being intentional with your time, to meet with new people and spend time with folk you know.  

"Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs” - Psalm 150v4
 

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PS - tonight at Carrowdore Mission Hall we finished the meeting with the Philip Bliss hymn Almost Persuaded. Written in 1871, it is one of many from the 1800s and early 1900s which were recorded by early country musicians. Bliss died trying to save his wife from a burning train wreck in 1876. Here is the Louvin Brothers' 1950s version

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