When my family moved to Fairfax, Virginia in September of 2000, I was a depressed, confused, and lonely high school boy. My dad had taken a job as one of the associate pastors at Truro Church, and our family packed up from the panhandle of Florida and came with him. Sitting in between me and my dad in the front of our moving truck was my brand new Taylor 410-CE acoustic guitar, a gift from my youth group just the night before, on my last night leading worship for them.
One of the first people I met at Truro was a man named Gary Jaskulski. He was the Director of Music and Arts and led a music program that was like none I had ever seen in my limited Episcopal (at that time) experience. After an opening hymn with organ, full choir, strings, brass, and timpani, they segued into the Gloria, still with the organ, full choir, and strings, but now with piano, guitars, drum set, and the pastor (now my bishop) playing his tambourine and shaking his hips. They actually attempted to do “blended” music, as in, do all kinds of styles of music in one service, and they actually pulled it off pretty well.
It wasn’t long until he cornered me after church and asked me to come by his office later in the week, with my shiny new Taylor, and audition. I wasn’t quite sure what to think – I was used to playing contemporary music with four or five chords, had never worn a choir robe in my life, and had never auditioned for anyone! A few days later I came by his office, we played and sang through a few songs together, and he asked me to play guitar on Sunday mornings. And I had to wear a choir robe.
So for several years I came every Sunday morning and played guitar at Truro Church under Gary’s leadership. It was just what I needed.
It was a place for me to grow and mature as a guitarist. Many Sundays he would put music in front of me with no guitar chords at all. Just a treble clef and a bass clef. I had to figure them out on my own. And many of these songs had more chords than I had ever seen in one song.
It was a place for me to grow in my love for more traditional forms of music. Up until coming to Truro, I might have sneered at what I thought was the irrelevancy of the organ. Now I got to sit under it every Sunday, hear Gary play it with amazing skill, and experience the grandeur of such a beautiful instrument.
It was a place for me to learn how to be comfortable with spontaneity. If Gary wanted me to take a verse of a song, he would just point at me about two measures before the verse started. I had to learn to watch him, to be ready, to be comfortable with making mistakes, and to rehearse just in case I got called on.
It was a place for me to experience multiple styles of music being employed in one service with excellence, humility, and joy. Gary was just as comfortable letting the organ soar on “Glory Be to Jesus” as he was playing gospel-style piano on “Soon and Very Soon”. He loved playing glissandos.
I had no idea when I first arrived at Truro and met Gary what a difference he would make to me as a worship leader and musician. I still try to emulate him on the piano. I’ll probably never come close. He was that good.
But after a year or two of playing under Gary’s leadership, I remember asking myself: “what is it that is so unique about how Gary leads?” I realized what it was. I never left a service thinking about how skilled an organist, pianist, or choir director Gary was. I left more aware of how great God is.
Today Gary stepped into the presence of that great God, after a long battle with cancer. His wife Merillee, son Christian, and daughter Catherine were by his side as he breathed his last breath.
I’m confident that there are pipe organs and pianos in heaven that we cannot even begin to imagine. It won’t be long until Gary has found one of them and is playing and singing “Glory Be to Jesus” with the saints and the angels joining in and falling on their faces in worship.
Gary, I thank God for you, your life, your ministry, and your contagious passion for his glory. Now you get to experience that glory in all its fullness. Enjoy your new robe.