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Like a bridge over troubled waters

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Cecil Smith believes strongly in the healing power of music.

He was the director of the Bermuda Police Force choir in 1977, when residents rioted after Erskine “Buck” Burrows and Larry Tacklyn were hanged for the murders of Governor Richard Sharples and his aide-de-camp Hugh Sayers.

Mr Smith and his 25-member choir stepped in with healing songs like No Man Is An Island.

“We sang all over Bermuda,” the 80-year-old said. “Sometimes we sang in venues in North Hamilton. At that time some people looked down on ‘back-of-town' residents, so some people were surprised that we performed there.

“The choir members, all of them policemen, were respected and people loved hearing them sing. They made a name for themselves. It was something to smooth over the troubled waters and quell some of the tension.”

The riots affected Bermuda's popularity as a tourist destination, he said.

The Police Force choir decided to help out once again. Members performed in New York to convince Americans that Bermuda was a safe place to visit.

“I'm very proud of my work with the Police choir,” Mr Smith said. The senior citizen grew up on Camp Hill in Warwick. As a child, he loved banging away on his grandmother's organ.

He begged his father Christopher, who was a church organist, for lessons.

His father thought he was too young. “I pestered him so much about it he finally relented,” said Mr Smith.

He proved he had a natural talent for music and quickly made his family proud.

“One Sunday, we were at church and my father was about to play a hymn that I thought I could play,” said Mr Smith.

“I was so eager I nudged him right off the organ bench. I wasn't yet ten.”

The congregation was fascinated as they watched the little boy successfully play the hymn.

Mr Smith never lost his passion for music, or the pipe organ. He studied music in university and in 1961, started assisting the late Doris Corbin on the organ at St Paul AME Church. He took over when she retired in 1980 and still plays there and at several other churches whenever they need help.

He was a music teacher at Sandys Secondary School for 32 years. “I loved teaching,” he said, “but playing the organ was always my first love. I don't direct choirs anymore; I leave that to younger people. But I still play the pipe organ.”

He said it was a shame that many churches were throwing out their pipe organs in favour of electronics. “There is a shortage of young people studying the organ,” he said. “I teach the organ, but there hasn't been much call for my services.”

He admitted it wasn't the easiest instrument to play, and could be temperamental.

“I think you have to be gifted for the pipe organ and you have to study it,” he said. “A lot of things are done manually.

“All pipe organs are temperamental. A change in humidity can cause the organ to go out of tune. They have to be tuned two or three times a year.”

The majestic sound was worth the hassle, he said.

Mr Smith received an MBE from the Queen in 1979, for his work with the Police choir. He recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bermuda Arts Council for his service to the community through music. “It was a surprise,” he said. “I was certainly happy to receive it and it makes everything I've done worthwhile.”

He and his late wife, Avery, have one daughter, Renee. He has three grandchildren.

Natural talent: Cecil Smith sits at the organ at St Paul AME Church. He was the director of the Bermuda Police Force choir in 1977, when residents rioted after Erskine “Buck” Burrows and Larry Tacklyn were hanged for the murders of Governor Richard Sharples and his aide-de-camp Hugh Sayers (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Cecil Smith playing the organ at St Paul AME Church (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published December 15, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 15, 2015 at 12:48 am)

Like a bridge over troubled waters

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