CLARKFIELD - On a recent Monday evening, members of the Healing Waters Country Gospel Band gathered at Bill and Nancy Houston's house for rehearsal.
The room the group rehearses in may be small for the seven members and instruments, but they make it work.
"It's more intimate this way, more fun," said Nancy Houston. "We love music, every one of us."
Photo by Cindy Votruba
Connie Pehrson, left, plays the piano while Nancy Houston plays the bass. Nancy Houston said she’s been teaching herself how to play for the last three years.
On June 6, the Healing Waters Parish Country Gospel Band will kick off its weekly country gospel worship service at Augustana Lutheran Church in Clarkfield. The service is every Wednesday through Aug. 29.
Members of the current group are Bill Houston on the accordion and keyboard, Nancy Houston on bass, Connie Pehrson on the piano, Roberta Brusven on the violin, Ken Pehrson singing bass, Mitch Brusven singing tenor and Sally Christianson singing soprano/alto.
Bill Houston said he was part of the parishes' original gospel band that started about six years ago. The original group also consisted of the Rev. Allan Johnson, Brian Schweer, Johnny Sturgeon and Kathy Koetter.
"It's a joint Healing Waters effort," Nancy Houston said. Besides Augustana, the Healing Waters Parish includes Bergen Lutheran, St. Lucas Lutheran, Swede Home Lutheran and Yellow Medicine Lutheran. The Pehrsons and the Brusvens are members of St. Lucas, and Christianson and the Houstons attend Augustana.
This will be the second summer the current members will be leading the music worship.
"I was the last one to join the group," Ken Pehrson said. He said he figured that since Connie was part of the band and he would be going along to rehearsals with her, he might as well join.
During the summer, Augustana doesn't have a Sunday service. Bill Houston said a lot of the parishioners go to the lake so a Wednesday service was established because people hated to miss church.
Bill Houston arranges some of the music. He said they do a combination of old standbys and bluegrass music.
"He's the organizer," Connie Pehrson said.
"Yeah, I do a little arranging," Bill Houston said.
Connie Pehrson said the group pretty much depends on music. Bill Houston said they use a liturgy of country gospel that was written by Johnson.
"We use a lot of old country gospel type of music," Bill Houston said.
The group always opens the service with "Shall We Gather" and then closes it with "When the Saints Go Marching In." Bill Houston said the group starts playing the music 15 minutes before the service, doing three songs.
Bill Houston said there are certain songs the group will do a lot.
"A lot of our regulars that's what they're looking for," Bill Houston said. He keeps track of the songs with a spreadsheet.
"Where else can you find this type of music?" Christianson said.
Members scour music books or find new songs to try from the Internet.
"There's so much of it out there, that's no problem," Roberta Brusven said.
"We've got lots of books," Christianson said.
Nancy Houston said the group sings mainly country gospel, bluegrass and some of Dakota Road's music. Dakota Road, which is based in South Dakota, is a worship and music publishing, leadership and performance company that specializes in original faith filled music, according to the company's website. The group gets together on Monday nights during the summer at the Houstons' home for rehearsals.
"Everybody brings new music to the group," Nancy Houston said. "We all encourage each other that way."
"We try to do a new song almost every week," Nancy Houston added.
There have been a couple or so challenging songs that the group has done, such as "Down by the River," which is a favorite.
"We worked on that a long time," Christianson said.
Bill Houston said the group did 50 to 60 different songs during the course of last summer.
"We're pretty dedicated," Nancy Houston said.
"I enjoy the fellowship," Roberta Brusven said. "We have become very close friends. I like the fellowship after the service. But there is a fellowship that happens during the service too. We have people come from various communities and various religious denominations, but during the service we are all united in our praises to God."
"I am very thankful for the opportunity use my God-given talents to help lead the service," Roberta Brusven added. "The casual setting has allowed me to grow as a musician. They let me do some solos, play the violin or pick up some percussion instruments and make some noise. The congregation has been very receptive to whatever we do and are very encouraging."
Members of the group said they get people from all over to come to the gospel worship service - Granite Falls, Cottonwood, Montevideo, Redwood Falls and Marshall.
"People will sing, they clap," Nancy Houston said.
"They dance," Mitch Brusven said.
"They sing out," Nancy Houston said.
And the parishioners are able to follow along as the words to the songs are projected on a screen.
"And they sing along," Ken Pehrson said.
"Sometimes they like to listen," Mitch Brusven said.