Bryce and I met Marcy Harvey Olhausen at Virtuoso last summer. During the weekend of ringing we learned that the arrangement of “Amazing Grace” we were performing was dedicated to her father, John F. Harvey. As I sat down to write a blog post for Memorial Day I remembered how beautiful the piece was and how emotional Marcy was about performing the piece, so I asked her to tell me the full story.
John F. Harvey was a C-130 and KC-135 pilot who flew with the United States Air Force (USAF) for over 30 years. After being reassigned to a job in the Pentagon, Marcy remembers that his last flight was extra special due to the fact that he refueled Marcy’s brother, who was also a USAF pilot, while both planes were mid-air. After only 3 years of retirement, he past away suddenly in 2000 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. One of the hymns sung at his service was “Amazing Grace”.
Afterwards Marcy’s mother wanted to do something special with the memorial gifts that were made, so Dean Wagner was commissioned to write a piece in memory of him. Wagner was already a friend of the family after Marcy and her sister rang with the Renaissance Ringers. When asked to describe her husband, Marcy’s mother cited his faith in the Lord, his love of the country, and his fascination with the West.
Using the beautiful tune “Amazing Grace” as the backbone of the arrangement, Wagner took this information and wove it into the piece. “Taps” can be heard playing about midway through the piece, symbolizing both Harvey’s military career and love of the country. Five minutes into the piece the treble bells can be heard repeatedly playing chords while getting softer. This technique, named the Canyon Echo, is meant to mimic the sound of the vast canyons found in the west. Two bells are also featured prominently. The G2 is meant to symbolize Harvey’s baritone voice, and it was a bell donated in memory of him. The piece ends on a B6, which is one of the notes Marcy’s sister rang in the Renaissance Ringers.
In the recording below, Marcy is playing the B6 at the top of the front table (it was actually an accidental bell assignment during Virtuoso that worked out perfectly). When asked about this performance, Marcy commented, “I have been blessed to hear this song rung several times, but this was my first time to publicly perform it. When the song ended, and the hall was silent for several moments, I truly felt God’s Presence and hoped that each person there felt touched by His Amazing Grace.”
Many times as ringers we get so caught up in performing a piece of music that we never stop to consider why the piece was written, or who the person was whose name appears in italics above a song’s title. On this Memorial Day, may you take a moment to remember those who came before, and those who live forever in a dedication line on a piece of music.
Cover Photo: John Harvey’s grave stone in Arlington National Cemetery.