Becks are Combined Locks parish’s version of Von Trapp family

Along with five children, Jim and Shari Beck make music at St. Paul Parish

COMBINED LOCKS — St. Paul Parish in Combined Locks is fortunate to have an active music ministry thanks, in part, to their own version of the von Trapp family — the Beck family.

Music is an integral part of life for Jim and Shari Beck and their five children, Natalie, 21, Michaela, 18, Nicholas, 16, Mackenzie, 14, and Madeline, 11. Between the parents and the kids, they play more than a dozen instruments, from brass to percussion, woodwind and strings including oboe, clarinet, saxophone, flute, trumpet, trombone, tuba, piccolo, clarinet, alto sax, the piano and the organ.

The Beck family is pictured around the organ inside St. Paul Church in Combined Locks. From left to right are Jim, Shari, Mackenzie, 14, Natalie, 21, Madeline, 11, Michaela, 18, and Nicholas, 16. (Amanda Lauer | For The Compass)

Jim, who is a chiropractor and owns Beck Chiropractic in Appleton, was introduced to the organ when he was a child. “There were six of us kids and my three sisters and I learned how to play. We had a family wedding reception band called the Beck Stoplites.” The band included Jim, his dad, two sisters, a brother and a friend.

The Beck Stoplites live on now with Jim and Shari, their children and their original drummer, Gary Godhardt. “We play for the fall festival at St. Paul’s and we play for the spring Lenten fish fries. One time we had a summer concert here,” said Shari.

In addition to playing instruments, most of the family members sing. “Shari sang in the choir at her home church in Hewitt, Wisconsin,” said Jim. “We joined the church choir before we had kids. I sing bass and she sings soprano.” Shari is also a cantor at their parish.

A love for the organ was passed along from Jim to all five children. Jim started playing organ at St. Paul’s when the previous organist retired. “Now Natalie, Michaela and Nicholas play piano or organ in church so we’ll switch back and forth. If they know the song on the organ, they’ll play it on the organ, if they know it better on the piano, they’ll play it on the piano.”

Sometimes the family will play at two or three Masses in one weekend.

“Organ playing is a dying art, it’s hard to find organists,” said Shari. “Parishes are using digital pianos. I like piano for certain things but the organ has a big sound. (It’s ideal in) Mass where you want a bold sound.”

“A lot of people, even if they play organ, they don’t change the sound,” noted Jim. “The organ’s supposed to have different sounds throughout the song — little sounds, big sounds, string sounds. You’re supposed to fill the church with sound so people sing. If they feel like they’re singing and the person next to them can hear them, they won’t sing. Organ does a nice job of that. For the opening and close of Mass, everyone’s supposed to sing.”

During Advent the family is even busier at church. “At Christmas Eve Mass we’ll have 50 youth involved at church,” said Shari. “We have instruments, we have singers, then we have a Nativity scene with the younger kids.”

The Nativity scene includes kids in costumes and a crib. “We build the crib piece by piece,” added Shari. “Then the kids play the whole Mass with instruments. We have to write some of the pieces.”

Their oldest daughter, Natalie, now attends St. Norbert College and is majoring in music with a Spanish minor. She plays piano on weekends for a local church. This fall, Michaela will head to UW-Stout to study graphic design and play in the school band. She hopes to find a parish to continue sharing her musical talents.

“Music is a big thing that bonds us together,” said Shari. “We both come from musical families and so … there’s a lot we can carry on as a family tradition and it’s also something we all do together that we enjoy.”

It’s not just in church. Many times they’ll get together and play instruments as a family in their living room.

Shari would encourage other people to step forward and share their talents in church as well. “When I was younger I sang for a contest and our church choir director said to me, ‘Why aren’t you in the choir? You know God gave you that voice and talent. Why don’t you use it for him?’ So I went home and I thought about it and thought, ‘Why don’t I?’”

Without younger voices, the music won’t continue, added Shari. “As a family, we can’t do every Mass. We need cantors and I know there are people out there who can sing. They may not want to sing alone but if they came up with two or three people (it may be easier). You’re going to church anyway.”

“You can find temporary happiness by going out for ice cream or buying yourself something or decorating your house for some holiday but there’s a sense of gratification if you do something for somebody else,” said Jim. “This is a narcissistic society, everybody’s thinking about themselves. If you have the gift of lectoring, then lector. Do it for the church. If you have the gift of serving or giving Communion, something you can do for somebody else, then do it.”