Hymn commissioned to honor late choir director, mentor

"God has given us a song to sing!"

“God has given me a song to sing!”

On Sunday, May 10, a special service was held at California United Methodist Church in California to commemorate the premiere of a hymn commissioned to honor the late Miriam Wilson. Wilson, who taught music at both California Area School District and California University of Pennsylvania, was organist and choir director for the church.

The church choir debuted the anthem during the regular worship service following a stirring tribute to Mrs. Wilson by current choir director Linda Jukes.

“When we age, we began to wonder, ‘What legacy will we leave behind?’” Jukes said. “When Miriam Wilson died, I wondered if she realized the legacy she left in the singers of the Mon Valley. Our choir thought long and hard how to appropriately acknowledge her legacy and, after some research, decided to commission a hymn to written in her memory.”

According to Jukes, Mrs. Wilson’s connection to the church began in her early youth.

“Miriam Laight [Wilson] grew up right next to the church. The borough building is built on the land where her house stood,” she said.

Miriam June Laight Wilson was born in California on June 24, 1923. She was married and widowed twice, first to Frank Donovan and later to Daniel Wilson. She had one daughter, Patricia, three granddaughters – Liza, Meg and Kitty – and three stepchildren, Jenny, Tim and James.

In addition to serving as a teacher and church volunteer, Wilson was director of the California Chorale, an assembly of university students, professors and members of the California community.

One among many whose lives Wilson touched, Jukes lavished praise on her mentor’s musical abilities.

“She had a gift for playing. She could remember music and would just sit down and play without [sheet] music for hours on end. She could also transpose music into any key and then play the accompaniment in the new key. It was an amazing gift,” Jukes said.

Another of Wilson’s “amazing gifts” was her prolific and wide reaching influence on others.

“There are hundreds of people in the Mon Valley and extending outward who love music as a result of Miriam Wilson,” Jukes said. “She nurtured musicians all along the way, whether kids went into music as a result of her influence or they just appreciated music as a result.”

The church choir chose lyricists Nancy Price and Don Besig because “they write music our choir can sing and the link of their web site was so easy to follow,” Jukes said. “They were extremely accessible and straight forward with their communication.”

The cost of having the anthem composed was $800 which is being paid for by personal donations from members of the choir and other church members.

Organist Jenn Chmiel and flautist Dustin Cramer accompanied the choir during the premiere of the anthem, “God Has Given Me a Song to Sing.”

After the anthem’s debut, Pastor B. T. Gilligan led all those in attendance in accepting and dedicating the hymn.

Members of Mrs. Wilson’s family were present at the service.
Story by Carla E. Anderton for Pennsylvania Bridges

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