The following is reprinted from Rich Melheim's "Melheimian Sabbatiblog". It was originally posted on May 16, 2007:
We're all living on borrowed time.
I first met Ralph Sappington one fine Lent at a church in Billings. I was at American Lutheran doing one of my maniacal 50 city "Conformation (sic!) is Dead" tour stops back in the 90s. Ralph showed up looking like a goateed beatnik who never made it out of the 60s, grinning ear to ear and nearly shouting "Amen!" to everything I said that day about art, music, small group care for teens and making confirmation look more like theater than class.
"Do this (faithink stuff) right and you'll be known as the church with no class!" was one of my one-liners back then.
"You gotta open the kid before you open the book."
"If any company in the country had a three-year training program and, after three years, 90% of the trainees quit, that company would cancel the program, fire the managers and try something else or go out of business!" (I was talking about Lutheran confirmation and the 90% attrition rate on the graduation/confirmation day when most of the kids danced out the door singing "Na na na na, hey hey, goodbye!")
Ralph and I clicked that day. He invited me to his favorite Italian restaurant for dinner (back then I was eating $1.99 GrandSlam Meals at Dennys every night after conferences to stay alive physically and financially.) On the way out, he walked me past the church pipe organ, which was sitting in 1000 pieces on long tables in the fellowship hall for its "annual 100 year cleaning". We had a marvelous meal, a bottle of decent wine and a memorable conversation about the arts and the church and kids.
Then Ralph mentioned he had a "little studio" in his basement. That was a big, wonderful mistake. Rather than going to sleep, we walked down into his magical space lined with guitars, mandolins, and trumpets on the walls.
That was about 8:30 pm. We emerged seven hours later with three Bible verse songs for Lent written and recorded. A dozen years later, Ralph and his musical accomplise Kathy Honaker had created piano scores and lead sheets for 240 songs - what would become our library of Bible verses put to music.
We're going to miss Ralph.
We're all living on borrowed time.
See what you can do today to say "thanks" to the lender.
Because the Sappingtons do not have medical insurance, Ralph's friends have requested that in lieu of flowers, anyone wishing to make a memorial contribution do so to:
Ralph Sappington Memorial Fund
c/o First Interstate Bank
401 N. 31st St
Billings MT 59101
The following was written in 2005 to honor Ralph as the FINK Music Guild Musician of the Month:
There are two sides to a trumpeter's personality: There is the one that lives only to lay waste to the woodwinds and strings, leaving them lying blue and lifeless along the swath of destruction that is a trumpeters fury; Then there is the dark side" - Irving R. Bush
Ralph Sappington can pull a worn trumpet off the wall of instruments in his basement studio and play jazz like the oldest New Orleans native. He can set that down and grab any of the guitars off the wall and hold is own with the best rock guitar players off there. A minute later he’s jamming on a honkey tonk piano like he owns the bar. Then it’s off to LA to produce for a classical artist. And then it’s off to church under the bluffs of Billings, MT, to bring all the gifts back to the God who created him and lead the worship and praise.
Disguised as a mild mannered worship leader, Faith Inkubators’ Musician of the Month is also our chief source for turning all FINK music into lead sheets and piano scores. Together with his assistant Kathy Honaker, the genius behind all this good music has produced hundreds of scores for us to accompany the music we send churches. It’s a unique skill-set. We send him a fully engineered and orchestrated song on MP3, then he sit down and cranks out a scores to accompany it so youth bands and worship bands can play along with the music, or wean themselves off the MP3 and play it on their own.
Who is this denizen of the dark music underworld and where did he come from? This is what he tells us:
Ralph Sappington attended California Institute of the Arts where he studied trumpet with Tom Stevens and composition with Hal Budd and James Tenney. As a professional musician he toured for many years and has played on stage with artists ranging from Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, The Temptations, Mary Wilson of the Supremes to the Duke Ellington Orchestra. His compositions have been used in film and television and he has played on many recordings during his career that spans the last thirty years. In 1991 Ralph moved to Billings, Montana where he founded Evangeline Music Corporation, a multi faceted organization that serves the music community with recording, publication, and production resources. He currently serves as director of Jazz Studies at Rocky Mountain College. He has traveled throughout South Africa and has been involved in starting music education programs in Capetown, Upington and Port Elizabeth. He recently produced “Dancing On The Edge” a new CD by pianist Darin Niebuhr at Glenwood Place Studios in Burbank, California and is in production for his latest CD, “Into The Light”, that will join “Land Of My Father” and “Aurora 8” as CD releases under his own name.
Rich Melheim ran into Ralph while speaking at American Lutheran Church in Billings. After a nice Italian dinner and a bottle of memorable wine, Ralph dragged Rich home to crawl into his basement studio. Rich pulled a guitar off the wall, Ralph grabbed a trumpet, and the next thing you know, three new songs were in the can, including Take Up Your Cross.
Ralph’s musical skills have given us songs, scores, and one more gift – his son, Will Sappington, who also has written for FINK’s Music Guild.
For all you’ve done for us, and for what you’ve given to the music world, the Faith Inkubators Music Guild is honored to name you our musician of the month!
Oh yeah, Ralph’s favorite quotation:
"The Music Business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." - Hunter S. Thompson
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