The State of the Church: My Mother, the Agronomist

Updated: Apr 7

Rev. Dr. Barry Johnson,



In March, we celebrate a myriad of women, lauded for their contributions as writers, scientists, engineers, judges, and more. However, there are innumerable other extraordinary

women whose contributions center around the advancement of “family.” I was raised by a single mother who mastered the discipline of agronomy, i.e., the science of soil management and crop production. Following is how she excelled in her craft.

In elementary school, I attended a Louisville Orchestra concert and was mesmerized by the musical fluidity of the musicians. Back at school, we were asked by Mrs. Whitney (our music teacher) if anyone wanted to learn to play an instrument and become part of the school orchestra. Freshly inspired by the field trip, I joined the music program, which was free at that time. I chose the clarinet (which luckily, the school furnished) and with a sense of joyful pride, began my studies.

Learning the instrument came naturally, and I progressed rapidly that first year. One day, Mrs. Whitney said to my mother,” He needs his own instrument.” We could not afford a new clarinet; but Mama found an used one at a pawn shop for $30.00 which, by the way, we still could not afford. Nonetheless, Mama put it in layaway, buying it within three months. The orchestra teacher was correct; my abilities soared because I no longer had to share the instrument and to return it to school during the summer. I had total access to the clarinet and was so proud it was mine!


During my second year of studies, Mrs. Whitney again approached my mom: “Your son is advancing, but he would really grow with private lessons from a professional clarinetist.” Again, we initially could not afford the lessons, but Mama had an idea. Through our connection with the orchestra teacher, we met Mr. Jack Crutcher, the principal (lead) clarinetist of the Louisville Orchestra who agreed to accept me as his student. His fees were reasonable, and Mama put a plan in place for the expense. She took in laundry to afford the lessons and made me practice while she ironed clothes. She had a keen sense of musicality and a great ear; so, she served as my “coach,” correcting me when I did not play a passage quite right and applauding me when I mastered a musical idiom. It seemed she had all the right answers, and my skill set continued to improve.

I progressed through the remaining elementary school years and into junior high school. Because of my development, I was moved up (in my second year) to high school band. What must not be ignored is that this mother (and child) had been favored by God! Later, the lessons became affordable, and Mama’s laundry service was no longer necessary. I continued with private lessons throughout high school, while learning several additional instruments along the way.

I grew as a professional, became fluent at the art, and toured with several bands. Those years of music studies (and sacrifices) opened a door for scholarships that allowed me to earn a bachelors, masters, and doctorate in music, along with a successful career as a university professor of music! Additionally, I served the Lord in several churches, as minister and director of music. All of these wonderful things happened because of the sacrificial love and intuition of a mother who saw her “man-child” as someone worthy of her efforts, who could achieve and remain on a path to success. As I reflect back, I recall those evenings that I sat at the kitchen table – my music stand filled with pages of music – while my mother drilled me, as she ironed. How had she recognized the musical mistakes I made? The answer came one morning many years later when, after having purchased a piano, I found her playing hymns from her childhood. I exclaimed, “Mama, where did you learn the piano?” She told me she had taken lessons at church as a child, had played for youth Sunday School, but stopped playing when she became an adult. Her mother made it possible for Mama to take lessons; later, my Mama provided lessons for me; and paying it forward, I allowed my children to study music!

Recall the mention of my mother, the agronomist? No, Mama was not a farmer; however, with the help of the Lord, she understood “soil” management and “crop” production. Demanding a Christian household, she planted good seeds in good soil and harvested a bounty that would perpetuate an ongoing succession blessed by Jesus. I owe it all to the woman who became a “farmer,” nourishing and cultivating that which became “good fruit.”

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