FOR THE LOVE OF MUSIC and GOD

CLIFFORD – The Clifford Firemen’s Picnic Grounds was the site where people of all ages gathered to enjoy the 17th annual Music in the Park.

For nearly seven hours, the local area reverberated with the sounds of music as various contemporary and traditional Christian music groups performed throughout the afternoon.

Beginning at 10:30am, Kingsley’s Russ Sears and his daughter Lauralee opened the day’s activities with an ecumenical worship service of prayer, scripture, and congregational singing.

“Today is a day of more than entertainment,” said Sears, whose return to this event was enjoyed by all, “as we can all forget our worries and cares for the day. We can focus on who You are Lord and what You do for us in our lives. We can just let the scripture and the messages of the day work in our hearts.”

With barely noticeable set and instrumental changes, music styles varied from gospel and blue grass, to some folk and Celtic, along with a bit of country and several original songs.

Instruments also varied, from piano and keyboard to hand bells, guitars and banjos, trumpets, drums, and big brass trombones. But regardless of the style or words or the instruments played, the day-long free music event and its heavenly-felt messages continually rang out for an audience that grew as the day progressed.

While some sets ran for a half hour, others played a bit longer as the congregational audience sang along, clapped their hands, tapped their feet, and often waved their hands in the air.

Groups and solo performers from various walks of life took to the modest stage throughout the day to entertain and engage the audience, while expressing their personal desires to share their love of God and music with others.

Wendy Mol -- who by weekday is a legal assistant and in her off time is the organist/music director at Carbondale’s First Presbyterian Church – played and sang songs of heavenly praise. Other soloists included Danny Coleman who has sung across the Poconos and with Nashville artists, and Kingsley’s own Paul Kester whose entertainment with the music saw and harmonica was happily welcomed.

Since the early 2000s, 73-yr. old Jim Reeves of Clarks Summit regularly shares his active ministry of guitar and song among the incarcerated men and women in area prisons.

Among some of Sunday’s performing groups was the Grabow Family from Lake Ariel, whose children aged 6-18 have performed together since early 2012. Their works included original arrangements of hymns, classical music, and popular favorites, while performing with a piano and hand bells.

The Spark Gospel Singers, a non-denominational group of dedicated singers that has featured more than 100 members throughout the years, has spread God’s word since 1981 and recorded four albums.

And while many of the one-dozen solo, duo, or multi-membered performers routinely entertain a wide variety of audiences and venues that include churches, civic groups and retirement homes, as well as recitals and community parades and strolling concerts, they all expressed sharing two things in common: a simple love of music and a strong sense of faith.

When specifically asked “why” they do what they do, one of Tristate Gospel’s alto singers Charlene Olcese of Clifford Township, happily answered, “I love music! And it’s the roots of my faith and where I come from. I grew up with gospel music, taught music in school for 35 years, and I’m now enjoying retirement while singing and sharing with a group of fun people who all feel the same way.”

Ron Decker, manager of the Lenoxville Band, concurred. “Music and my faith have always been a part of my life. I was the band’s mascot when I first got involved as a kid. Today the Lenoxville Band is celebrating its 80th anniversary, with members aged 15 to 86. Over time we’ve probably had close to 200 members, and 43 of them are playing here today. It’s just a great feeling to be here, to enjoy and share what we all love to do.”

An ongoing event since 2000, Music in the Park got its own start as a follow-up to the Prayer of Jabez. “Oh, that you would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory,” recalled the event’s talent coordinator Fran Thomas.

“Years ago, four or five churches came together to sing and worship.

"Early on, the event began alongside the pond behind these picnic grounds. Things naturally grew and expanded through the years, and many different groups and musicians of all ages have come to share their talents. They’re here from places across PA, NY, and NJ, and bus groups of youth have come from Lancaster. Year after year, our mission remains the same … to join together to worship God through the musical talents He has blessed us with.”

For these performers, theirs is a quiet faith with personal beliefs. But when they opened their mouths to sing and put their hands to their instruments, they made a wonder-filled sound that joyfully reached Sunday afternoon’s bright blue skies.

The annual Music in the Park is open and free to the public on the first Sunday in August.

A free-will offering is accepted to help with any expenses, and committee-prepared picnic-fare was available for sale. The summer’s local-area Vacation Bible School also provided a bake and craft sale.

Next year’s Music in the Park is already scheduled for Sunday August 5th, and the committee is gearing up to begin making plans for another song-filled event. To become part of the planning fun and/or to join as a performer, call 570-222-4344.