Church Music For 70+ Years

Doris Simms (left) and Clara Penny (right)
The Rev'd Eli Cross

Doris Simms was born in 1934, at Pushthrough, on the isolated south coast of Newfoundland. Her mother discovered her talent for music, and in Doris’s words, “She started me off with the keyboard as much as she knew, and then Effie Chambers became my music teacher with the basic component being hymns”. The teenager’s talent blossomed, and she started playing at Pushthrough church at the tender age of 14. (She explained where the name came from: “They pushed the whale through”—it is a very narrow shallow tickle). Doris finished high school and went to Burgeo, Fogo, and Joe Batt’s Arm as a young teacher. Since she new how to play, so she was expected to provide music for their churches.

Clara Penny, born 1939 at English Harbour, Trinity Bay, experienced a similar path to music. She also took music lessons for a year when she was around 13-14 years old and played at her home church until she left home to go teaching. Her career brought her to Port Union and Catalina for five years where she played at Holy Martyr’s and St Peter’s churches respectively. An early memory she recalls is: “On New Year’s Day the Fishermen at English Harbour would parade and the open offering that day would be given the organist.” 

Both teachers would end up married and living at Catalina. Clara Penny married business manager, Harold Duffett. Doris Simms migrated with Melvin Freake, her new husband, as he was hired an engineer at the Catalina Fish Plant. Clara’s name somehow colloquially got change to “Penny” Duffett after they married, switching her maiden name with her first. 

Though both had been playing in differing churches for nearly 45 years it wasn’t until the 1990’s that they became a tandem team at St Peter’s, Catalina—an executive decision made by a new rector, the Rev’d Wayne Short. When I (Rev’d Eli) arrived, they were a mainstay for the music leadership and ran a very energetic choir that would only shut down in the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, eagerly bouncing back after the Covid-required recesses.

In March of 2022, while at home, Doris experienced a fall at aged 88 that left her with a broken hip and a fractured shoulder. This article was earlier planned as a tribute to my two whirlwind musicians, but it was delayed until we ascertained how Doris might fare from her injuries. Though her desire was strong, her body was too weakened to allow her to resume her biweekly vocation. Playing the double keyboard organ at St Peter’s requires one to literally climb aboard and keep one’s arms elevated throughout the performance. Hence my composition has morphed from a tribute to two fantastic musical leaders for more than 140 combined years of service in their musical ministries. It remains a tribute to their exploits, but also is a retirement wish to one. 

Penny continues to play weekly at her youthful age of 83, occasionally taking a breather. We wish Doris a much well-deserved retirement at 88, though if she had it her way, she’d still be tickling the ivories at church. 

Both would sum up their careers as “Loving every minute of it!” Worship in the Parish of Catalina has been greatly enhanced by their unselfish devotion of time and talent in praise to their Lord.

Keep on reading

Skip to content