Blind pianist's fingers see keyboard CENTRAL COUNTY--Arnold * Broadneck * Severna Park * Crownsville * Millersville

January 07, 1993|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff Writer

The stout brown cane, heavy-knobbed and a little worn, edges up the platform stairs of Asbury Town Neck United Methodist Church.

Alexander Hunt, 72, can't see where he's going, but after more than 40 years as the church pianist, he knows.

He knows how to play, by instinct, with repetition and patience.

For decades, he's been playing the old songs with the senior choir at the church, just off Ritchie Highway in Severna Park. Sunday afternoon, the choir will celebrate those years with a concert at the church.

"I just like to play," says Mr. Hunt, who also fills in when other churches need a pianist and plays at nursing homes.

"They like it. At the homes, if I'm not there, they say, 'When is that man coming back?' "

He chuckles.

"I say never feel sorry for yourself," Mr. Hunt says. "You go as long as you got the go. As long as I can move my fingers, they shall move."

It is Tuesday night, and the choir is practicing for Sunday's concert. Seated at the piano, Mr. Hunt makes a jaunty figure with his matching blue-and-white pocket handkerchief and tie, and his impeccably tailored navy suit.

He stretches long fingers over the keyboard, warming up with a rendition of the old favorite, "Just As I Am."

"I like that song," he says. "I don't know why, I just like it."

When practice begins, the other 10 choir members are not quite as prepared. Director Odessa Murray-Cornish cheerfully browbeats them into tune.

"Look at me, you two. Yoo-hoo! Look at me when you're singing!" she warns a pair of elderly ladies.

The choir runs through a hymn. "Each step I take/I know that he will guide me/To higher ground, he ever leads me on. . ."

"That's easy, try it again," exhorts Mrs. Murray-Cornish, taking off her shoes and bouncing on her stockinged feet. "This time, turn your book over and do it from memory. Can you remember the lines?"

The choir members shake their heads. "Almost?" cajoles the director.

They rustle a little in the pews, smiling. "Almost," says one.

"I need something for my throat," says another. They pass around the cough drops.

Mrs. Murray-Cornish and Mr. Hunt wait patiently.

The choir repeats the hymn for half an hour, and what sounded weak and ragged grows stronger.

Off to the side, Mr. Hunt reminisces about his childhood, growing up in an Annapolis suburb.

Born blind, he first played a harmonica, then a little pump organ at home. When he went to school, he taught himself piano, ukulele and guitar.

Mr. Hunt wasn't always a church-goer.

"I've been into things, yep. Things that wasn't church-going things. But the church is good for you, that's right, and you come back. Believing in God -- all that helps."

In his 20s, Mr. Hunt started playing for church square dances, or lTC promenades. Before long, he was the regular pianist at Asbury, and he never left.

By now, Mr. Hunt knows most of the hymns the choir sings. Those he doesn't know he plays on a tape recorder and learns by ear.

"I have me a pretty good time," he says. "Yep."

When it's time for the next song, a choir member will touch Mr. Hunt on the shoulder, signaling him to begin.

Seated at the piano, trouser cuffs rolled up and cane leaning nearby, the elderly man makes music.

He reaches for the keys, and the music rolls out: "Each step I take, my Savior goes before me, and with his loving hand, he leads the way. . ."

Mr. Hunt beams. "It just comes natural," he says. "I always tell folks the music's just in my bones."

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