DEL HAVEN – “I’ve always felt it was a privilege to direct our choirs and play the organ for our church services. To me, it was never a job, it was an honor,” Ruth Fritsch wrote, in a Dec. 15 email, reflecting on 53 years as music director at Cape Island Baptist Church, in Cape May.
From her home, in Del Haven, Fritsch spoke about music and her life experiences. Music is more than notes, styles, and the business of organizing choirs. For Fritsch, it is an integral part of life, offering solace during hard times and providing an outlet for one's highest joys.
Fritsch moved to Wildwood, while in the sixth grade, with her family. She graduated from Wildwood High School, in 1953.
During her high school years, Fritsch discovered her love of music and sang in the New Jersey All-State Chorus for three years. The chorus sang for the state teacher’s convention, in Atlantic City and Newark.
“There was no (Garden State) Parkway in those days,” Fritsch reflected.
Talent is bestowed, but it must be exercised, and Fritsch learned her craft at the First Baptist Church of Wildwood.
“I took my sister to Sunday school,” Fritsch said.
“I sang in the choir every Sunday, morning and evening services. One of the choir members was from Juilliard and gave me voice lessons,” she explained.
The Juilliard School, in New York City, was founded in 1905 and is renowned for its music and drama programs.
As Fritsch grew up, she joined a county organization called the Schumann Club and sang in several operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan, 19th-century English composers.
“To help me with these endeavors, I studied piano and later the organ, and was lucky enough to learn on a three-manual pipe organ. In addition to singing in church, I played the organ when needed,” Fritsch said.
Fritsch’s love for God encompasses her love of music, binding them.
“I was baptized in this church (First Baptist Church of Wildwood), so I guess I’m a lifelong Baptist,” Fritsch said.
Fritsch was asked to fill the position of organist/choir director at Cape Island Baptist Church, in 1967.
“My plan was to stay 'til they could find someone, but it turned out to be 53 years. I’ve loved every minute of it,” Fritsch said.
Her life has been full and busy, not only with music, but also with raising a family. Fritsch loves young people and seeks to instill an appreciation for music in them. Over the years, she has given private piano lessons in addition to working with children at Cape Island Baptist.
Music is never stagnant, and Fritsch masters its flow by incorporating new sounds and stylings with the hymns she grew up singing and playing.
“Many of our old hymns can be arranged in a more upbeat style, using guitars and drums. Young people seem to like these arrangements,” she explained.
She likes contemporary Christian music, “as long as it’s not repetitious and the text is meaningful and clear.”
“I do like songs with beautiful melodies and just love spirituals with a rocking piano accompaniment,” she added.
Across Christian denominations, many are concerned about aging congregations and dwindling numbers. However, Fritsch sees cause for hope, not despair.
“I’m an optimist; never looking back, always looking forward, thinking of ways I can improve our music and the quality of our singing. I truly love the people in our church and choir,” she said.
This year has been challenging, and Fritsch’s experience is no exception. After Thanksgiving, her husband, Charles Fritsch Sr., died, after a period of declining health (http://bit.ly/38OsKp3).
Fritsch, 91, was buried Dec. 3, after a private service held at Cape Island Baptist Church. He served in the Air Force during the Korean War and later worked for Atlantic City Electric, as an engineer.
Ruth Fritsch also misses her church family and choir members, hoping to reunite and create beautiful music again post-pandemic.
“My faith in Christ has grown stronger and, hopefully, our music has become more inspiring and meaningful to our church members, visitors, choir, and me,” she said.
For those struggling at the close of 2020, Fritsch shared these words:
“2020 has been a difficult year, but I do know that music will lift you up, either by listening, singing, or playing an instrument. This year has helped me grow in my faith, knowing how blessed I am because my hope is in the Lord. Yes, I am a child of the King,” she wrote.
She hopes to see people’s faces again, in 2021, with fewer masks and more smiles.
She also encourages others to listen to a recording or to watch a performance of “The Messiah,” by George Frideric Handel.
“You will be blessed,” Fritsch concluded.
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at email@example.com.