An organic ministry

Ryan Carter

NORTHWEST DISTRICT -- Parishioners call him the "Master of the


But Dick Smith says he's just got the knack for the ivories, whether

it's playing gospel hymns on a 50-year-old church organ or toe-tapping

tunes on a piano.

Smith, 70, has been the organist at Victory Celebration Center, a

local Burbank Christian church, for 16 years, but he's now bidding

farewell to the congregation to lead the music of a senior citizen's

Sunday ministry at a church in Northridge.

He will give a free farewell concert called God Bless the USA at 7

p.m. Wednesday at the church, 3901 W. Victory Blvd.

Smith, a former music teacher at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles

who has spent 52 years as a professional musician, has been legally blind

all of his life. To read, he must hold a page less than an inch from his


"That doesn't seem to make much of a difference," Smith said,

reflecting on his musical ability to convey rousing gospel hymns and

rhythmic popular songs. "I just feel this is a way I can minister for the


Sundays, Smith performs for a senior citizen's group in Pasadena.

That's after he takes the bus to church from his home in North Hollywood.

Apparently, he doesn't disappoint the church's congregation.

"When he plays 'Battle Hymn of the Republic,' there is not a dry eye

in the house," church member Bev Hibbard said. "We refer to him as the

'Master of the Keyboard,' but he would say it's just a little knack.

There's something about the rhythm he puts to the music."

Among Smith's favorite songs to perform are hymns with a bit of a beat

and liveliness, such as "Power in the Blood" and "He Lives."

Smith wasn't even sure of his future with the church at the time he

took the job.

"I just thought I was going to be a fill-in," he said.

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