Heart Full of Hymns
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 11:00 AM
For 80 years Norma Croxton has played the piano. The recently turned 89-year-old great-grandmother has spent nearly every Sunday since she was 9 - more than 4,000 Sundays - playing the old standard hymns in church.
Norma Croxton has been serving God and blessing the church with her musical abilities for most of her life. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchiefirstname.lastname@example.org)
"That's all I've done all my life. That's all I know." said Croxton, who grew up in Switzerland County.
She's been playing long enough that she wakes up with hymns in her mind every morning.
Croxton's mother Ida Tevis helped build the Brooksburg Wesleyan Methodist Holiness Church with pension checks from the military. That's where Croxton first played piano in front of people.
The piano player's aunt was the first person who taught her how to play music.
"She taught me how to play 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus.'"
Croxton soon started to teach herself songs. "So I just took that one song and used it to learn other songs in the same key."
In her early days behind the keys, Croxton said her aunt would scold her for adding extra notes into songs.
"She would say 'You'll never learn your time if you keep adding extra notes,'" she said. "But I still did it anyway."
To help her get her timing down, her mother would sit in a pew near the piano and clap in time with the music because they didn't have a metronome.
"She was determined I was going to play," Croxton said. She said that she can now play many songs with or without sheet music to guide her.
Croxton played piano at her mother's church from the time she was a child until she was married in her 20s. After she exchanged vows with John Croxton, the newlyweds moved to a Methodist church in the area where Croxton, again, played hymns for the congregation. Eventually the couple moved to Hanover. That's when the 25-year-old pianist decided she needed a break after playing for so many years.
"So, when we moved to Hanover, I thought 'I'm not telling anybody I play.'"
The Croxton's started attending Hanover United Methodist Church, and, for a little while, got away with her ruse.
"So I went to church, and I think I went two or three times and I didn't tell anybody I played," she said. It wasn't until a member of Croxton's new church became ill, and ended up in the hospital where Croxton's mother worked as a nurse, that her cover was blown.
"So my mother asked if she knew me and she said 'Oh yes, I see her every Sunday.' And my so mother said 'You know, she plays piano.'"
"I was a little frustrated because I felt like I needed a little rest. I just wanted to sit back and listen to someone else play," Croxton said.
However, after a short break of a few weeks, she was back at the piano on Sunday mornings.
"I've been doing it ever since," she said.
When she first started playing at her new church, Croxton was nervous. She hadn't often played with a choir.
She says she doesn't struggle anymore. She's been playing two services each Sunday at United Methodist Church for 64 years. Being on stage, she said, brings her peace.
"Even on Sunday morning, if I'm playing in front of a big crowd, it doesn't make me nervous."
Croxton said it's taken her entire life to feel that kind of confidence.
While she no longer plays with the choir, electing to only play hymns, the offertory, prelude and postlude, that doesn't mean she's cutting back on her playing time.
For several years she has donated her services to the Hanover Nursing Home.
On Wednesday mornings each week Croxton plays more classic hymns for the residents of the nursing home.
"I'm really attached to the nursing home, I love the people over there," she said. "I know they really appreciate us coming."
Croxton said that playing the hymns is a good mental and spiritual workout.
"I can get more out of the hymns, the words of the songs, than I can the Bible," she said.
She added that playing music, preparing it for the service and practicing her pieces gives her brain a nice spark.
Croxton has no plans to quit playing anytime soon. She wants to play for as long as she's able.
"As long as I'm here, I'm going to keep playing."