Church pianist celebrates 30 years

Published 3:32 pm Friday, March 13, 2009

Denise George is uncomfortable with having her picture plastered on flyers throughout Montevallo First Baptist Church.

The church is marking George’s 30th anniversary as pianist by proclaiming March 22 “Denise George Day.” George doesn’t understand why everyone’s making such a fuss, but church music director Terry Davis does.

“She does more than play notes on the page. She makes the piece her own, and changes the character. She has the ability to make things sound new and fresh,” Davis said. “We want to give honor and glory to God for the talent he has given her.”

George, a Birmingham native, began piano lessons at age 7 at the urging of her mother, Opal Corn. George preferred to take dance lessons until her mother explained her reasoning behind learning piano.

“She said it was something I can use my entire life and I can glorify God with it,” George said. “It was her desire to see me play, and I loved it. It’s been my life.”

In 1978, George and her husband, Roddy, moved to Montevallo and joined Montevallo First Baptist. The following year, George filled in for the church pianist who happened to be a University of Montevallo student leaving for summer break.

“I was expecting twins at the time and I’d been away from the piano for a few years. My piano fingers were so dusty,” George said. “They needed a pianist for choir rehearsal and (former music director) Roger Smith asked me to do it. When I started playing, he said, ‘Why are you not playing?’”

George became the church’s full-time pianist later that fall. She said the opportunity allowed her to reconnect with the gift God gave her. She studied piano at Samford University, Birmingham-Southern College and the University of Montevallo under retired professor Bob Cowan. She also taught preschool music and piano lessons at Shades Mountain Christian School in Hoover. Outside of her responsibilities at Montevallo First Baptist, George teaches piano to 20 students ranging from children to adults.

George considers Christian hymns and standards to be at the top of the music chain. Among her favorites are “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “All Creatures of Our God and King.” She has an eclectic taste in music, and is known to play Coldplay’s “Clocks” or Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” when the mood strikes her.

George has played at church weddings and funerals, and she has recorded music for hospitalized friends and newborn infants. She’s constantly in awe of music’s ability to tap the deep well of human emotions.

“Music is a powerful tool that penetrates human hearts and it has been a blessing to be used by God to help people worship, celebrate their happiest moments and persevere or be encouraged and comforted by great songs of our faith,” she said.

In honor of George’s 30 years of service, the church is collecting money to purchase a grand piano for American Village. The piano will be presented in memory of George’s son, Scott, who died at age 27 of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1996 after being elected to the Shelby County Commission.

“Scott loved community service and politics, and we just wanted to do something tangible to honor Scott’s memory,” George said. “I know Scott would be appreciative of that because he was a great encourager of my playing.”

George is now teaching piano to Scott’s 12-year-old daughter, Gracie. George said teaching her granddaughter is one the most fulfilling experiences of her life.

“Teaching her has given me a real deep sense of satisfaction. I feel like Scott’s looking over our shoulder” she said.

On March 22, “Denise George Day” will begin with a worship service at 10:30 a.m., followed by a luncheon at 11:30 a.m., and a concert of praise by George at 1 p.m. Davis said George’s devotion is something for all to emulate.

“To remain faithful at one job is a real gift, and I think the spiritual gift of faithfulness is evident in her life,” he said.

George said she feels blessed to have the church dedicate a day to her, and encourages others to use the gifts God has bestowed to them.

“There’s great joy in doing what God calls you to do,” she said. “I am grateful to the church for letting me serve here, and I am grateful to God.”