Chaplain squeezes out a new identity

Chaplain squeezes out a new identity

November 30, 2000
Written by Staff Reports

The Rev. Earl Ball began playing the accordian at the age of nine. A. Kelly Gaylor photo

If you ever are a patient at Grand View Hospital in Sellersville, Pa., and need some cheering up, be sure to request the services of the Rev. Earl Ball.

He's caring and soft-spoken, true, but the man can also play one foot-stomping polka on his accordian for you.

Or, if you prefer, a mellow hymn.

Director of Pastoral Care/Chaplaincy at Grand View for eight years, 52-year-old Ball has been a UCC minister for 27 years. Six years ago he got the idea to incorporate the accordian into his hospital ministry.

As any Bible reading person knows, music and dancing are often described in the Good Book, especially as joyous celebrations.

Ball agrees with this philosophy. "When I play for people, I want them to feel happy and joyful," he says.

When you first meet Ball, however, don't expect to find a rabble-rousing musician. Slight of build and very mild-mannered, he is exactly what people expect in a pastor.

But put an accordian in Ball's arms, and a new person evolves. "I encourage hooplah, shouting, and dancing for the patients," he says with a big grin. And the physically challenged need not be shy. Ball says even persons in wheelchairs can do the Chicken Dance or shake a tambourine.

"I've been told I seem to become another person when I strap on the accordian," he says. "Actually I get in touch with my more playful side."

In his every day ministry, Ball will use his music as an opener to reach a suffering patient. Recounting one touching episode, Ball says the patient was depressed, with blankets tucked up to her chin.

With her permission, he played for her. Soon, Ball saw her toes moving to the beat under the covers. Before long, she requested hymns, then a rousing polka.

It was then, Ball says, they could move into more spiritual issues.

Ball began playing the accordian at the tender age of 9. But what would entice a little child to play such a challenging instrument?

Ball replies with tongue in cheek. "I'm from Buffalo, New York—from the Polish section," he says, "and to survive as a child you had to learn how to play the accordian and whip out a mean polka!"

He couldn't wait to give it up, he says.

When Ball was 16, he retired his accordian to his closet for 26 years, bringing it out only occasionally to form "short-lived polka/pop bands" with names such as Heimlich Maneuvers and Alert and Oriented.

"I think music is good for the spirit and soul," Ball explains. "Sometimes it's the only way I can reach someone ... Music can be healing, whether it be a hymn or a polka."

A. Kelly Gaylor is a free-lance writer from Blooming Glen, Pa.

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