FV Robert Horton A27 organ competition

Robert Horton, organist and choirmaster at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Lancaster, shown in a 2018 file photo, won top honors in organ improvisation at the American Guild of Organists National Competition in Seattle, Washington, in July

THE ISSUE: It’s Friday, the day we take a few moments to highlight the good news in Lancaster County and the surrounding region. Some of these items are welcome developments on the economic front or for area neighborhoods. Others are local stories of achievement, perseverance, compassion and creativity that represent welcome points of light during the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic and with other worrisome developments enveloping our nation and world. All of this uplifting news deserves a brighter spotlight.

Amid the fallout of an incredibly concerning situation in the Middletown Area School District has come a gesture of compassion that replenishes our faith in the goodness of people.

Middletown Superintendent Chelton Hunter announced the cancellation of the high school’s football season on Aug. 24, amid an investigation into on-campus hazing by some students that was captured on video by other students during the football team's heat acclimation practice sessions. This was a necessary decision, given the horrific nature of the hazing.

But canceling the football season also meant major disappointment for Middletown’s marching band and cheerleaders — two groups of students who work incredibly hard and generally get so much less glory and publicity than football teams.

Then came a delightful surprise.

 School District Superintendent Mick Iskric offered to let Middletown’s cheerleaders and marching band join its district’s activities for the season, LNP | LancasterOnline’s Ann Rejrat reported last week.

“Iskric said the idea came to him when he saw Middletown was looking for other opportunities for those not involved in the hazing investigation but affected by the cancellation,” Rejrat reported. “He admitted that the two districts are rivals on the field but that the two districts are neighbors, and offering help is more important than a sports rivalry.”

That’s a wonderful lesson and example for us all. Helping our neighbors must always transcend any differences or “rivalries” we might have.

While officials at both schools said last week that the logistics of having Middletown marching band members and cheerleaders partner with Steelton-Highspire must be worked out, the offer is promising news for many: the hardworking students, their instructors and the parents and fans who build their fall schedules around going to watch them perform.

“If this was my daughters, I would want someone to step up and offer opportunities,” Iskric said. “You offer a hand and pull them back up. Hopefully, this decision to help out others is something that my teachers can follow, that my staff can follow, and that my students and the community members can learn from. What I’m going to ask is that they pay it forward.”

In other good things:

— We’re big fans of the “I Know a Story” feature that runs regularly in LNP | LancasterOnline. Recent columns have conveyed local tales of selling soft pretzels, international pen pals and the joy of just watching your lawn grow.

And we really loved the Aug. 28 installment written by Peggy Atkins of East Hempfield Township. For nearly 30 years, she was involved with Life Story workshops, listening to war veterans, teachers, nurses, farmers, pastors and factory workers recount their life experiences. (Yes, it’s an “I Know a Story” about getting to know others’ stories.)

The stories that Atkins heard in the workshops are the stories of Lancaster County’s history. They are about the individual lives that make up the fabric of the place we call home.

Some examples from Atkins’ piece:

— “Isabel, a war bride from Germany, described her initiation to American ways and the culture she left behind. For those of us with German ancestry, her accounts were especially captivating.”

— “Nurses brought their uniforms and caps to class, representing their profession in the 1930s and ’40s, when white shoes, stockings, skirt, bib, apron and cap were worn proudly, although the starched fabric was annoying. Those caps identified different teaching hospitals. One could identify Lancaster General Hospital graduates by their distinctive puff of white, which rose from an anchoring band of white edged by a strip of black velvet.”

— “Arthur was a big man with a soft voice and a Pennsylvania Dutch accent. One could imagine him being a home-bound farmer. But, no! His tales of riding his motorcycle all over America and Europe, with particularly funny tales of fairies and elves under bridges he crossed in Ireland, were delightful moments.”

We’re grateful for both Atkins’ work and for the “I Know a Story” feature, each helping to lift the voices of neighbors we otherwise might never know about.

— Finally, a round of applause for Robert Horton, the organist and choir director at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity.

He earned a first-place finish at the American Guild of Organists National Competition in Organ Improvisation, held in Seattle in early July.

“It was a fun time,” Horton told LNP | LancasterOnline correspondent Joan Kern.

As you might imagine, “improvisation” is the key to the competition. In the semifinals, the five organists were given sketches of five tunes.

“We had to fill in the blanks,” Horton explained to Kern. “It’s as if you asked an architect to design a kitchen, and he has to fill in the details. You need a comprehensive background in harmony, and I’ve spent the past 25 years playing a lot of harmony.”

The idea of borrowing from and building upon years of experience to create a joyful new thing appeals to us.

It’s a note we think would sound great for so many other projects in Lancaster County.

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