Noveline Sorrell can no longer see the pages in her hymn book.
She can’t read the notes along the treble clef in “The Old Rugged Cross” or find the page number for “Victory in Jesus” in the key of G.
It doesn’t matter, though.
She knows the way by heart. And her fingers follow.
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On Easter Sunday, at the Sandy Valley Baptist Church on South Houston Lake Road, Noveline will take the two steps up to her seat on the organ bench and make a joyful noise.
She will play the medley for “He Lives” and “Worthy is the Lamb.”
She began losing her vision almost 20 years ago. Macular degeneration has been a slow march of fog settling around her eyes. Now, she only can see shapes, blurred images with no details. Her world is a steamy bathroom mirror.
“My doctor told me I would never be completely in the dark,” she said. “But I can no longer see to read. I have to memorize the music and find the notes.”
The music has never stopped. She began playing the piano when she was 10 years old. She turned 85 last month, so her hands have been moving up and down the ivory for 75 years.
“The Lord put music in me to begin with, and I believe he wants me to use what I’ve got for as long as I’m here on earth,” she said.
Pastor Phil Bryant said it is more than music, it is a ministry.
“In the same way God led me to be a pastor, he led her into a ministry with her music,” he said. “She shares the same message I do. She communicates the love of God with her music. Sometimes we have to adjust and change because of our health and age. But we don’t have to stop.”
Her parents gave her an unusual first name, Noveline. They said it was a family name. “I tell everyone I am a novelty,” she said, laughing.
Her father, Clyde McLain, was a gospel singer who pastored several churches. After returning from the Army following World War II, he sang bass in a gospel group called the Smile Awhile Quartet in North Carolina in the 1940s and ’50s.
While her mother was working her shift in the mills in Kannapolis, North Carolina, her father often would take Noveline and her sister, Helen, with him to a music school where he taught.
They learned to read shape notes. He began teaching them scales and the words to several songs.
“He would put me in a chair and let me sing,” Noveline said. “I loved to sing. When I was 10 years old, we got an upright piano, and I began taking lessons.”
Before long, she was playing in church.
She married in 1951, Four years later, her husband, Kenneth Sorrell Sr., took a civil service job at Robins Air Force Base. They moved to Warner Robins with their three young children — Kenneth Jr. and twins Bob and Brenda — in tow.
When the children were older, the family joined Evergreen Baptist Church, just a few blocks from their house. Noveline began singing in the choir but eventually took over at the piano, where she was a fixture for 30 years.
She later played piano and organ at Green Acres Baptist and Westside Baptist, before joining Sandy Valley as organist in 1997.
Noveline doesn’t dwell on her age or her vision problems.
“I just love music, and I’m thankful I can still do it,” she said. “If I ever stopped, it would be the end. That’s how important it is to me.”
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism and creative writing at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.