Pursuits of Happiness: Music

Photos b Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Director Gary Moeller of Jasper directs the Celebration Singers choir at Precious Blood Catholic Church in Jasper on Dec. 14.


JASPER — Gary Moeller knows that every song consists of essentially the same thing.

Twelve notes.

Though played in a variety of combinations, in various octaves and at different speeds — every piece of music is technically born from the same ingredients. Twelve notes.

Emotionally, however, the Jasper man understands how powerful those notes can be.

How they can both make a person dance with joy and weep in sadness. How they can make memories feel closer than they actually are, or whisk their listeners away from reality altogether.

Music has been by Moeller’s side since he was a boy. All these years later, it’s still there.

Now the lead director of the local Celebration Singers group and an active piano and organ performer, his march through 65 years of life can be traced through the lines of scales.

“Music makes you feel things that are uniquely yours,” he said. “And nobody else will feel it that way. But it can make a lot of other people feel similarly, or maybe totally on the other end of the spectrum. But it causes you to think and to feel.”

Director Gary Moeller of Jasper directs the Celebration Singers choir at Precious Blood in Jasper on Dec. 14.

Moeller spent his first eight months in an orphanage in Quebec City, Canada, before being adopted by his parents, who lived in Jasper. As far back as he can remember, he was enthralled by listening to AM frequencies and singles pressed on wax.

The Beatles. The Beach Boys. As a child, Moeller discovered the brand of 60s pop that would one day be hailed among the most significant movements in modern music. And he was hooked.

“We didn’t have video games,” he reflected. “So the radio was our video game. It sounds funny, it sounds antiquated. But it really was.”

When he reached the second grade, he begged his parents to allow him to take piano lessons, but they refused. Purchasing one of the instruments “would have been a luxury for us to spend that kind of money,” Moeller said.

He continued to beg and plead for two years. Mom and Dad eventually gave in. A piano was brought into their home. And little Gary’s talent shined.

“The only way you can look at it is just to say it’s just a gift from God,” Moeller said of his natural flair. “To have that ability.”

In addition to being a born performer, he also hears music differently than others. His ears can guide him while he plays — allowing him to pull his eyes away from sheet music and still produce beautiful sounds.

Around the same time he picked up the piano, Moeller also joined the boys choir at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper. When he was in eighth grade, the legendary director — who was also the church’s organ player and leader of the men’s choir — passed away.

And so at the age of 14, Moeller stepped up to fulfill those responsibilities.

“It was a unique experience,” Moeller said. “I remember my first midnight Mass, I made a couple mistakes. I was so upset at myself, I was sitting there in tears trying to hold it together.”

He wondered if he could live up to the expectations. But as time passed, his experience grew.

Director Gary Moeller of Jasper directs the Celebration Singers choir at Precious Blood in Jasper on Dec. 14.

Though he was too young to drive, he began playing and singing at weddings with good friend and now city-councilman Kevin Manley. Sometimes, they’d perform at multiple ceremonies in a day.

After graduating from Jasper High School, he shipped off Tennessee Tech University, where he played football on a scholarship and studied music education. There, he harnessed his skills to the point that he could play pieces composed by Frédéric François Chopin — a Polish composer and piano virtuoso regarded as one of the greatest pianists of all time.

He came back to Dubois County after his schooling and began working for Kimball, where he sold keyboards before transitioning into the office furniture industry. He also played piano and organ at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church — something he still does today. In addition to that, he directs the church’s choir as well as the traveling Celebration Singers outfit, and he plays other gigs, too.

He sees a religious intersection within his hobby.

“I think music allows you the opportunity to connect spiritually,” he said.

The artform is an escape for Moeller. He marvels at what people like Beethoven have written — how they have bent those 12 notes into unique and enduring masterpieces. He relishes the feelings they stir in him, the feelings that are uniquely his.

He can play a song a thousand times, and it still feels as good the last time as it did the first.

“It’s been a true gift to be able to still do it after all these years,” Moeller said. “Can’t walk and chew gum very well, but I can make a piano say a few things.”

And he doesn’t plan on silencing it anytime soon.

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com