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Valarie Victor’s 50 years of musical service at United Church of Christ of La Mesa

By B.J. Coleman

Previously Printed in The East County Californian

Used with Permission

Valerie Victor PIANOHalf a century of mastery of any skill is a stunning accomplishment. Family members, friends and fellow congregants came together at the United Church of Christ of La Mesa on Sunday, June 25, for a special morning worship service honoring the “Golden Jubilee” of Valerie Victor for 50 years serving as the church’s organist-pianist.

Reverend Paula J. Elizabeth, the UCCLM church’s transitional minister, opened the gathering, “Welcome to a wonderful, extravagant service, as we honor Valerie.” Elizabeth continued, “We are here to celebrate Valerie’s 50th year of offering music to worship her God. This is a very special day. The music is so much of who she is.”

After the greeting and beginning rituals, the central portions of the service focused on Victor, her background, and her musicianship in the church and elsewhere. The morning hymn was “When in Our Music God is Glorified.”

Elizabeth described how Victor became a remarkable keyboardist. When she was seven years old, Victor practiced on a paper piano. She graduated soon after to a real instrument, and her music teacher described her as “way beyond” the other students, with initial lessons “too easy for her.” Young Valerie took keyboard instruction for the following seven years. When she was 14, she became accompanist for services at her home church in Lemon Grove. She played a pump organ at the time.

“In June 1967, Valerie Victor was invited here,” Elizabeth went on. An interesting historical tidbit is that the first instrument Victor played on at UCCLM was an organ that had been acquired with a nearly forgotten commodity, Green Stamps. (These Green Stamps were distributed as purchase inducements that retailers provided to customers, which could be pasted into booklets and subsequently exchanged for other goods and services.)

Elizabeth noted that Victor had been honored with many awards—so many that listing them all “might take another 50 years.” And when Victor engages in performances, she does little to no rehearsal. “She just gets up and plays,” Elizabeth said.

Introducing the next part of the service, Elizabeth spoke of Victor’s devotion to her family, “She is the mother of four, the grandmother of six, and the great-grandmother of seven.” Instead of a typical sermon, the morning’s celebratory message interspersed scripture readings of two passages from Psalms with brief commemorative statements from Valerie Victor’s family members and Victor’s performance of three special piano pieces.

“We’ll start with one of Valerie’s favorites,” Elizabeth said of the first verses of Psalm 92, which mention “singing praises” to God on the lyre, lute and harp “with harmonious sound.”

Victor’s oldest son, Rich, informed the congregation, “Mom is very, very good at sight-reading” music. After she received sheet music for an extremely difficult composition, he explained joking, “She may have made one mistake. She may have played a D flat instead of a C sharp.”

Victor’s daughter was unable to attend due to illness, and she had requested that Elizabeth deliver prepared remarks that she wanted known about her mother, including Victor’s “unconditional love,” “loyalty,” and “discipline in music and music training.” Elizabeth agreed, “Valerie practices and practices and practices.”

Victor’s son, Larry, had also written comments that he asked Elizabeth to read. “I’d love to give the story,” Larry had penned. But he continued wryly that he had “no instrument” and was known to “talk too much.” What he wanted audience members to know was what Valerie Victor had meant to him as his mother.” He and his sister had arrived into Victor’s family as a “package deal” at 12 and 16, respectively, when Valerie and their father had fallen in love. “She is the kind of person music and songs should be composed for,” Larry wrote. “She always considered us her children. She is the very definition of what a mother’s love should be.”

Victor’s next son, Bernie, rose and said, “Thanks, Larry, you made the whole family cry.” Many members of the congregation were already in tears too. He wanted to point out that their mother was “always serving others, always doing things for others.”

Overall memories from a career of 50 years? “This has always been a joy, a pleasure, an honor, to worship and play music,” Victor had replied. Any special audiences? “Children, with children, you just love them back.” A highlight? “I’ve never had to audition for any position I’ve ever held.”

Psalm 150, the last in the book of Psalms, was the final scripture reading of the day, exhorting worshipers to “praise God” with trumpet, lute, harp, timbrel, dance, stringed instruments, flutes and cymbals. Victor rounded out her special performances by playing a piece entitled “Fully Alive.” Elizabeth ended the celebratory message, saying, “That’s what Valerie is, fully alive, sitting at the piano.”

Indeed, Valerie Victor’s performances of these special pieces were masterful, magical, lovely and moving. This was surely a wonderful display of musicianship and dedication from a very special member of East County’s communities.

Members of the choir honored their organist-pianist with a beautiful bouquet of red roses and carnations. “These are Valerie’s favorite flowers,” Elizabeth told attendees.

In recognition of the day, offering donations could be earmarked for the church’s music fund. The day’s events included refreshments and a luncheon gathering after the service.

The Table: United Church of Christ of La Mesa is located at 5940 Kelton Avenue. More information about the church’s meetings and ministries can be found online at TableUCC.com or by phoning (619) 464-1519.


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