Making a joyful noise: Livingston has been doing that and more for decades
By Melanie Tucker | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It’s quite possibly the best testament to just how good Hugh Livingston Jr. is on the organ — and it’s one of the funniest stories he tells in his latest book.
It was the Third Sunday in October years ago, the Sunday after the University of Tennessee had put an old-fashioned stomping on its arch-rival, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Livingston was playing the organ for St. Paul Episcopal Church in Jeffersonville, Ind. that morning, still giddy from a UT victory that meant something. There had to be a way to keep that celebratory mood.
So when it was time to play the morning offertory, Livingston cranked up his best rendition of “Rocky Top.”
“I slowed it down and put some Mozart into it,” Livingston said with a grin. Even my wife didn’t get it. The only ones who did were God and me.”
Plenty of stories
This 1963 graduate of Alcoa High School, former band director and choral director, never gets tired of sharing that. And UT fans never tire of hearing it. It’s one of the anecdotal entries in his book “Joyful Noises! A Collection of Stories to Inspire and Amuse.”
This new book author who was born and raised in Millers Cove has spent decades earning a living through music. After Alcoa High School he attended Carson-Newman College and then transferred to Maryville College. After earning his undergraduate degree there, he went on to the Southern Seminary School of Church Music in Louisville, Ky.
Livingston served as a staff composer and music editor for The Lorenz Corp. in Ohio for more than 20 years. He has been on staff at so many churches in the area — from Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church to Smoky View Baptist and St. John United Methodist to where he is now, Emerald Avenue United Methodist in Knoxville. He did a stint as an entertainer aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean as well. In the early 1970s this young musician was even selected as the house organist at the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville, home to the Mighty Wurlitzer.
The stories in Livingston’s book cover his life from birth to the present. He tells about breaking his arm while a fifth-grader at Springbrook Elementary School in Alcoa. The surgeon told his parents his left arm would never straighten out, and he might not have full use of his hand. Nobody told Livingston that.
When he got his cast off, he developed a plan. He went into his garage and found a five-gallon bucket and filled it with sand.
“I carried that bucket of sand everywhere I went,” he wrote in his book, “including school and church, and it worked.” His left arm did straighten out, which certainly helped with his trumpet playing, the first instrument he learned to play after the ekuele.
Livingston’s family moved from Millers Cove to the city of Alcoa in 1950 to take advantage of the top-notch school system. Livingston began studying music in 1953 thanks to an uncle who gladly loaned Livingston his trumpet.
But Livingston soon had his eye on another instrument, the Hammond organ at Alcoa First Baptist, where his family joined shortly after moving here. He asked if he could play it. Certainly not, he was told.
Then one day he saw his chance. He learned about the coal chute that led to the boiler room. The 10-year-old who weighed 70 pounds slid down the chute and played when no one was looking — many times.
Two years ago, Livingston went back to First Baptist and confessed. Turns out, there were no hard feelings. “They didn’t excommunicate me,” Livingston said.
At 67, Livingston is now retired as a professional musician, but not from entertaining. About five years ago, he started the Silver Project, where he travels around with a 520-pound organ, eliciting smiles from the older generation. He goes to many assisted living centers and nursing homes in Blount, Loudon, Knox and Sevier counties. He will have traveled to over 4,000 by the end of the year.
A new chapter
“Joyful Noises!” is a way for Livingston to raise funds to keep the Silver Project alive. He has hired two men who help him transport the organ by trailer. It’s a ministry that’s been one of the most rewarding for this writer of music, former conductor and performer.
In fact, he’s performed at some of the most well-known music houses in the country, like Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall and the Ryman Auditorium. But none has been as satisfying as seeing the grateful faces of those elderly residents who are transported back in time through songs.
“I can see such a wonderful response from the patients,” Livingston said. “From that first moment on, I knew this is what I need to do.”
So this masterful musician who has over 1,600 pieces of music in print has found his labor of love. He plans to stick with it.
“As a person, I am no more or less than anyone else who has ever lived,” Livingston wrote in his book. “Because of God’s presence within me, I have managed to accomplish things that might have been otherwise beyond the abilities of a boy who came from Millers Cove, an insignificant mountain hollow in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee.”
The Silver Project, Livingston said, is one way he can answer God’s words in Luke 12:48 — “For unto whomsoever much has been given, of him shall much be required.”
It’s a passage this self-professed backwoods Tennessee boy takes seriously.