Tyler R. Perry
For the Advertiser
CASS CITY — There’s no saying what will happen when a seed of talent is nurtured — take Cass City’s Roger Parrish, for example. The combination of raw talent, encouragement from his parents, and opportunities to hone his skills proved to be just what he needed to blossom into the village’s “music man”.
Parrish’s talents were “inherited” from his mother, Elena Stoll Parrish, whose musical abilities included singing, as well as playing a variety of instruments, including the piano, organ, and harmonica.
“She never had the opportunity to take lessons,” Parrish says of his mother. “She played by ear, without notes.”
As a boy, Parrish’s parents encouraged his musical talent. They bought an old upright piano from Cass City High School for $5. It was on this piano that Parrish’s mother taught him how to play by ear — something he picked up on quickly. “She taught me a couple of hymns, old traditional hymns,” he says. “[Playing by ear] made sense to me.”
When he was about 10 or 11 years old, Parrish
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began taking piano lessons from Ethel McCoy, wife of a prominent town doctor. He was under her tutelage for a couple of years, during which his natural talents were refined.
As time went on, Parrish had opportunities to grow and share his gift of music. At the ripe age of 15, he became the organist at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Cass City. During his high school years, he was the school choir’s pianist, played at various local functions, and was a drummer in the band at Cass City High School, where he was graduated in 1950.
After high school, Parrish enrolled at Central Michigan University. When he returned home from school on the weekends, his schedule was full – teaching piano lessons Saturday afternoon, playing for area dances Saturday night, and serving as church organist on Sunday morning.
In 1954, Parrish graduated from Central Michigan with a degree in education with a minor in choral music and piano. It didn’t take him long to put his education to good use.
“There was an opening in Caro for elementary music,” he says. “There was no school building at that time, so they had classes in area churches. I’d get in my car and go to the different churches [to teach].”
The following year, Parrish took a job in his hometown, teaching choral music for grades 1 through 12. “There was no music room at Campbell Elementary at that time, so I had to literally push a piano from one room to the next,” he says.
Parrish taught students the fundamentals of music and was a great promoter of vocal talent among high school students. “There were some very talented students at that time, as there are now, I imagine,” he says.
Not only did Parrish teach music – he composed it as well. Among his compositions are Cass City High School’s anthem — “Alma Mater, Hear Us Now”, “Rhapsody of the Red Bird”, “A Tribute to Mother Teresa”, (written 5 days after her death in 1997), as well as a host of Christmas songs, such as “This Child of Christmas”.
“It was a highlight of my life,” Parris says of his time teaching in Cass City. “I enjoyed it very much.”
In 1970, having taught at Cass City for the past 15 years, Parrish decided to resign and take his musical career in a new direction. He headed to California, where both family and opportunity awaited him. There, he worked as an entertainer in various venues, one of which was the prestigious Stardust Country Club in San Diego.
From there, Parrish worked in a variety of places, including Indiana, Virginia, and Florida. While in Miami, someone suggested that Parrish apply for work with a cruise line. “I applied on Thursday, was hired on Friday, and set sail on Saturday,” he says.
His job with the cruise line took him to South America and the Caribbean Islands. He worked with them for two winters before retiring in the mid-1970s.
Since that time, Parrish has used his musical abilities to benefit the Cass City community. He was the organist and choir director at the First Presbyterian Church for 15 years, and has played and sung his original music in other churches throughout the area.
Today, Parrish is active with the Tom Thumb Singers, where he serves as the lead piano accompanist. “I enjoy hearing and playing the music of the Christmas season,” Parrish says. “It’s very inspirational.”