Donald S. Marsh: composer, mentor, friend

A dear friend and mentor of mine, Donald Stuart Marsh, died this past month.  I have been thinking about his legacy, his impact on my life and on the life of the community he called home for forty years.  Don was the director of arts of the First Presbyterian Church in Port Jervis, NY.   A ministry he shared with his life partner, the Rev. Richard K. Avery, who served as minister of this congregation. Don had a unique gift of being able to see the gifts that a person carried within them.  He saw the spark of who they were and intuitively was able to fan that spark so that it would be a fire of vitality.

I first met Don when I was about 12 years old. My junior high experience was fairly traumatic with bullying by my class mates. So when my older sister invited me to attend an actor’s workshop of the Presby Players, I felt my life was shifting towards something remarkable.

Presby Players was the acting troupe that Don founded and directed for forty years, bringing quality theatre to a country town with discussion of contemporary issues to the fore. He is considered to be the longest running director of a church arts program of its kind in the country.  I was privileged to have been able to work behind the scenes as well as on stage in several productions.  I had parts in “The Trojan Women,” “The House of Blue Leaves,” and “The Devil’s Disciple.”

Don outside his home in Santa Fe in 2006

These opportunities were a life saver for me.  I also participated in the church’s choir where we sang a variety of anthems and full choral pieces with orchestration like Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Hodie. For a number of years, the church would put on a version of the passion play on Good Friday.  I enjoyed participating in all of these events as they would sustain me through my week.

But Don and Dick were music composers in their own right, collaborating on more than 150 compositions that have been enjoyed in congregations across the country as well as several being translated into several languages including Swahili.   I was often invited to participate in worship workshops where they introduced creative ways to not only perform traditional music but also their own songs.  When I turned 14, Dick and Don offered me a position to assist in their publishing house, Proclamation Productions.  All of these activities were like a safe haven for me from the day to day school life of being bullied for being gay.  He offered me and so many others like me a life line and then taught us how to offer that life line to others.

I am not the only person whose life was forever transformed and enriched by the life of Don Marsh. There are hundreds of people, not only in the city of Port Jervis, NY but across the country that were moved by the light that was Don.  The comments that are left in the online guest book are filled with similar stories.  I shall be forever grateful for his life being such an integral part of my story.

After I came out of the closet, I was fortunate to have an opportunity to tell Don how important his life intersecting mine was and how vital a role he played in my growing up. I hope that my life will be at least half as important to those around me. If there are people in your life that have intersected with your life making you the better for their presence, tell them.

To quote one of Dick and Don’s songs, “Love them now. Don’t wait till they’re gone away.  Love them now, while they’re around. Touch them, hold them, laugh and cry with them. Show them, tell them, don’t deny with them.  Honor them, give birth and die with them now.  Love them now before they’re just a guilty mem’ry.  Love them now.  Love them now.” (Love Them Now © 1970 by Richard K. Avery and Donald S. Marsh)  Blessings abound, Fred

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2 Comments

  1. Sad loss, Fred, but it sounds like he was a truly inspirational man who probably helped many other youths come to terms with who and what they are. Death comes to us all, but not everyone can say we have known someone who has lived a worthwhile life. Fond memories are a treasure. Hugs, friend 🙂

  2. Fred-
    I left Port before becoming aware of the issues you faced. I frequently felt like odd man out in school for other reasons. I don’t know what I would have done without the haven and simultaneous challenges that Don and Dick provided for me.
    I’ve been enjoying reading your blog. You know how to turn a phrase- another probable legacy from them. This piece was moving, and an accurate depiction of the energy and guidance they provided for us all.


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