Former choir director still imparts lessons

Curtis Shelburne

I’m pretty sure I just participated in “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”

Several hundred of Mr. Frank Frisbie’s former students—“his kids,” as he has always called us—and many friends gathered at Amarillo’s Tascosa High School to surprise our former choir director on his 75th birthday and to say “thank you” to this dear man. We arrived early, rehearsed, ate lunch, and then once Mr. Frisbie was ushered in and got his breath back after the surprise, honored him with a concert.

Billy Talley directed us. He’s a good friend, cut from the same fine cloth as Mr. Frisbie, and has been Tascosa’s choir director now for almost three decades. The first quartet song I ever attempted to sing in public I sang with Billy Talley. Practice went fine. But at the real deal we each somehow started in a different key. Crashed and burned. The song? “No Tears in Heaven.”

Billy led us as we sang in Mr. Frisbie’s honor. Then our teacher himself directed us. I stood singing on the risers beside my brother (also one of Mr. Frisbie’s kids and now his pastor), and the years fell away. (Nothing else fell. By now Mr. Frisbie’s “kids” are mostly at the age where horseplay on the risers and a fall might not mean a trip to a nursing home but . . .). Amazing! To be standing back where I’d stood so many times so many years before, being directed again by such an influential person in my life.

In 1974-75, I was the choir president at Tascosa and spent a good bit of every day with Mr. Frisbie. As I actually had about three periods of choir each day during my senior year, most of my days were spent singing or getting ready to sing. During special times, we Freedom Singers spent more time away from school singing all around Amarillo than we did in class. It didn’t hurt us. It blessed us. And one of the best blessings was learning about life from this good man of deep faith.

On a One to Ten scale of tender hearts, Mr. Frisbie was always an Eleven. Beauty. Pain. Laughter. Love. All of the above and so much more would move this good man to tears. Maybe one of the reasons his heart has always been so good is that it has always been washed so often.

As he directed us again and we sang, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” I was half an inch away from washing the back row of basses off the risers with tears of my own. I would have done so unashamedly had I not so wanted to keep honoring him in song.

Mr. Frisbie has never stopped teaching. His life teaches me that life can be breathtakingly beautiful and filled with joy. His life also teaches me that sometimes life is difficult and poignantly painful. But Mr. Frisbie’s best lesson is that life is not God. Only God is God, and the God who is the Source of all goodness and love, all beauty and joy, loves “His kids” completely. He will walk with us through it all. One day we’ll lift hearts and voices together in a concert that will never end.

No tears in heaven? Well, none of the pain-filled kind. But I’m betting tears of deepest and purest joy will flow wonderfully. Mr. Frisbie has taught me that.