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Berryman

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Twenty-six years ago this fall I went off to college for the first time, to a small private campus in the Twin Cities.

After careful consideration, I chose the school for two reasons: The dorm rooms had carpet, and the chapel featured a massive organ with five manuals that they played every day.

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However, college life wasn't what it was cracked up to be. By the first week of October, I was homesick and lonely. The novelty of the carpet in the dorm had worn off. When the gigantic organ was played in chapel, it was played badly.

Attendance at chapel was required. One morning in early October, I dragged myself out of bed expecting the usual awful music. But as I walked down the tunnel toward the auditorium, my ears perked up.

The organ was playing Bach's Arioso, a piece I played hundreds of times on a Virgil Fox record my father gave me in eighth grade.

Whoever was playing had the magic touch. As I emerged from the tunnel into the auditorium, I saw a white-haired gentleman at the keyboard who looked like God himself.

Dr. Edward Berryman was the organist. I soon found out that he showed up once per week to teach lessons at the college. And once every few months, he played in chapel.

Turns out the music students eagerly awaited Dr. Berryman's rare appearances. As a fan of Bach organ music, I was determined to meet this man whose aristocratic bearing matched the grandeur of the music he played.

Three weeks later, I spotted Dr. Berryman ahead of me in the lunch line. By the time I had gotten my food and found him in the dining hall, he was seated with some football players asking them about their hometowns.

I sat down. He asked my name. I asked him, "When are you going to entertain us in chapel again?"

"We'll try for edify!" he snapped, not wanting to be known as a mere entertainer. "Any requests?"

Berryman's eyes lit up when I requested the "Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor" by Bach. It was an impractical request. A 15-minute piece, it would devour half the chapel period.

Another month passed before Dr. Berryman was scheduled to play for chapel. Sure enough, Berryman commandeered 15 minutes from the chapel authorities to play the entire "Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor" by Bach.

As the crowd of 1,200 students roared at the end of the great showpiece, Dr. Berryman saw me in the audience and gestured my way. Elvis himself couldn't have made me feel more honored.

Months passed. I left the school. Late the next summer while back in Minneapolis for a Twins game, I stopped by the campus. I poked my head into the chapel. There, with the rays of the afternoon sun pouring through the stained glass windows, sat regal Dr. Berryman at the organ, lost in the music.

I waited for him to finish before I walked in, as scared as if I were approaching the throne of the Almighty, wondering if he would remember me.

Berryman greeted me like an old friend. Emboldened, I asked if he would teach me. He said of course. Wait a minute, I said, I can't read a note of music! We'll deal with that, he said.

I walked right out the chapel doors, down the hall and registered for another year of school at the college. This time I had a better reason to attend than carpeted dorms.

Dr. Berryman accepted my limitations as a musician. He allowed me to learn Bach at the excruciating rate of eight measures per week. Because I was so slow, we spent the better part of the lessons discussing music, literature, and Berryman's friend, the late, great Virgil Fox.

Twenty-five years have passed. Last week, on a whim, I typed in the name Edward Berryman into Google to see what came up.

Dr. Berryman died at the end of August. He was 88. I learned from an article in the Star Tribune that in his last years, his wife cared for him at home where he played hours per day, even though he suffered from Alzheimer's.

Over his career, Dr. Berryman taught hundreds of students. Probably none of them progressed more slowly than I. But because he was willing to befriend a lonely college student who admired him to no end, and because he could make a pipe organ come alive like nobody I have ever heard, Dr. Edward Berryman will always be my hero.

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