Old-time gospel music is still alive thanks in part to a Christian quartet and piano player in Franklin County.
The group does not have a formal name, but it is known as the First Christian Church Men’s Quartet.
The purpose of the group is to praise God and spread an encouraging message that makes people smile.
They not only have harmony in the music they make but also in the Christian fellowship they share.
Member and bass singer Bob Hall said he is closer to his fellow singers than he would be to his own brother.
“I could probably say anything I wanted to around this group of people, and they’d love me anyway,” Hall said.
All of the members have notable music backgrounds.
Mark Baxa played the euphnonium in the University of Illinois Symphonic Band and Edd Pryor sang in clubs in Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas and Houston.
“I thought I was going to be the next Frank Sinatra,” Pryor said, adding that it did not work out and he got his degree in accounting.
But he did get to make a recording in Elvis’ studio across from Graceland in Memphis.
Hall toured the Midwest with two Iowa-based gospel quintets for decades, and Steve Gerdel has a college degree in music composition and arranging from Emporia State University. His mentor was a student of the famous composer Aaron Copeland, and Gerdel got to meet him in the early 1970s.
Gerdel co-wrote the music for a rendition of Aristophanes’ “The Birds.”
Hall performed with one group on the same stage and on the same day as the Imperials before about 10,000 people. At other times he just performed on a flatbed truck at a community church service or at the National Bible Conference in Wisconsin.
Pianist Jan Gerdel, Steve’s wife, studied piano at the same university and met her husband there.
“She’s a very gifted piano player,” Hall said.
Her mother started teaching her when she was about 4 years old, and now she can play by ear, meaning she can hear a song and play it without looking at sheet music.
“She makes us sound better than we are,” Pryor said.
Her hands are “annointed,” and she can play with such gentleness that it can calm the soul, Hall remarked.
Pryor started singing professionally at age 15 and did background vocals for David Gates, who started the rock group Bread. But he said show business was not for him.
“It’s pretty hard for a Christian to survive in the music field,” Pryor said.
Therefore, he is glad to bring a Christian message through the FCC group.
Hall agreed, saying, “There is something special about men singing together. God moves through music.”
The group is starting to get more requests to perform at events and has been together for two years, singing styles such as Southern gospel, country and old hymns. “Just a Little Talk With Jesus” and “Just A Closer Walk With Thee” are two well-known songs the quartet sings.
Steve Gerdel says he thinks the youth enjoy the older songs too even though much of the Christian music is headed more in a contemporary direction. He added that the group does not shy away from newer songs either.
The group can also do patriotic songs, such as “God Bless America,” which it will perform at First Christian Church’s Memorial Day service.
At this time the group has no plans to make an album.
“It will happen if God wants it to happen,” Hall said.