At the age of three she couldn’t reach the keys, but with the help of couch cushions and her sister pushing the pedals, Dorothy Dunne began to play the organ.
She was part of a musical family with her siblings playing the guitar and fiddles and their father adding rhythm on the spoons. Music filled their home and the family calendar as they performed at political rallies and dances.
Dorothy’s mother took the children to church every Sunday and allowed her daughter to sing in the choir. When an Anglican church heard about the talented 15-year-old, Dorothy stepped down from singing to accept an invitation to play the organ, an unexpected privilege at such a young age.
At 19, Dorothy moved to Toronto to study piano at the conservatory. At the time, she didn’t know how the lessons would help in the future, how one day she would rely on that training to effortlessly switch from one chord to another.
The years in Toronto introduced her to a young man who shared her love of music. After they were married, her husband was offered a job in Sarnia in 1955. Leaving behind a fulfilling and active life in Toronto, Dorothy willingly made the move, praying that God would give them a good church and an opportunity for ministry.
In January of 1956 a guest speaker came to Bethel Pentecostal Church, where Dorothy and her husband had settled, and requested that the church rent an organ while he was there. The congregation so enjoyed the organ music they decided to purchase their own. Dorothy’s prayer was answered as she found her place of ministry, playing the organ at Bethel.
For the past 60 years Dorothy has been found every Sunday behind the organ at Bethel. As musical styles changed she adapted, leaning back on years of playing jazz music to learn the new rhythms.
Ask about favorite songs and you might expect her to name old hymns. Instead she replies, “Whatever we’re playing now!”
After all these years Dorothy still loves the organ and has no plans of quitting.
“People have said to me, ‘Don’t quit playing until God tells you.’ Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re too old,” she said. “So I’m going to keep playing until God tells me to stop, then maybe I’ll do something else.”
Dorothy’s music has encouraged a great number of people who have worshipped over the years. In honor of Dorothy’s 60th anniversary at the organ, a special celebration is being held at Bethel Pentecostal Church on Sunday, Feb. 14.
Tricia Gibb is the Student Ministries Pastor at Bethel Pentecostal Church in Sarnia.