Summary: Funeral message for Mr. William Powell Garrett, our Minister of Music and an official of Montgomery County Government

Scripture: Philippians 4:1, 3-9


I want to ask our children’s choir to help me with the message today. I want to ask all of you a question. Whenever you would come up here to sing, and you would start out, what did Mr. Garrett always say to you? What did he shout out from the piano over here?

I can’t hear you. But that’s not quite the way he said it. How did he say it? Make it sound like Mr. Garrett:

I can’t HEAR YOU.

Do you think that’s right? I mean, do you really think he couldn’t hear you at all? Not well enough. You hadn’t put enough energy into your singing. It wasn’t as good as it ought to be and it wasn’t getting out here to all the people. So he would say to you, “I can’t hear you.”

Well, that’s interesting. That’s very interesting. Because Mr. Garrett had just about the best ability to hear of anybody I know. Mr. Garrett could hear all kinds of things!

There would be more than 200 of us in here on Sunday morning, singing some hymn, and Mr. Garrett would be able to hear one person, sitting way back over there somewhere. He would pick out some good voice and would see who that was and would say, “That’s somebody I want in my choir.” I expect some of you got recruited just that way! Oh, he could hear, all right. He had a very, very good set of ears.

So why did he sometimes have to say, “I can’t hear you.” We all know he could hear a pin drop during a thunderstorm! Why would he ever say, “I can’t hear you.”

What he meant was, “I don’t hear anything that isn’t good enough yet. I don’t listen if it isn’t excellent. I don’t accept it if it isn’t right.” “I can’t hear you” really means, “I won’t let you do less than what you are capable of doing. I won’t let you be lazy and shoddy. I can’t, I won’t hear you.”

William Garrett heard excellence. He did not hear, would not hear, anything less than our best efforts.

Now, believe me, I am no singer. But I do try. The choir members know, bless them, that I do try. But my father was a very fine singer, and I learned at least one thing from him. I learned that when you are singing a hymn, you should breathe according to the sense of the words, and not just at the end of a musical phrase. My father’s rule, and I do try to keep it, is that if the punctuation in the hymn does not fall where the musical phrase ends, then you carry over and breathe where the text tells you to breathe. And so, one Sunday morning, we were singing Luther’s sturdy old hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”. One part of the hymn says, “Our helper he, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.” All the rest of you sang, “our helper he, amid the flood” AAHH “of mortal ills prevailing.” But I, I am quite sure, the only one, I sang, “Our helper he” AAHH “Amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.” Right then and there, in the middle of the hymn, before God and everybody, Bill Garrett treated me to the biggest grin and a “thumbs up” sign! I finally sang something right, and he heard it!

He could hear, all right. He could hear when we did well, even if it was only once. He couldn’t hear, he wouldn’t hear laziness, sloppiness, anything less than excellence.

And so the great apostle Paul, summing up his own life and leaving a word of counsel for those whom he would leave behind, says, “If there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing that things that you have learned and received and heard .. and heard .. and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” If there is any excellence ... keep on doing the things that you have heard. And the God of peace will be with you.


For us, here in this church, we have heard the excellence of William Garrett’s music, and we will want to keep on hearing it. He brought us a long way. We learned to open our mouths and sing out. We learned not to mouth our way through four verses and slam shut the book; we learned that sometimes we’d have to sing that last chorus and make sure heaven heard it. We learned that sometimes we’d need to get out noses out of the hymnals and trust the Spirit. We learned that we could have excellent music.

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