Beatrice Bush Bixler
A 20th Century Alliance Musician
Jeffrey A. Mackey
One evening on the Moody Radio, Bill Pearce, the host of Nightsounds, a broadcast begun during World War II, played a beautiful choir arrangement of an outstanding hymn of testimony. A few weeks later, he received a letter from a young mother, who, with her little boy, had been listening to that particular broadcast. The mother told how, with great interest, her little fellow listened to that particular song. Days later he asked her, “Mommy, when will that man play that song again?” “Which song?” his mother inquired. “The one that said, ‘no more a stranger he is the Lone Ranger….” Well of course the little fellow’s mommy, and Mr. Pearce found this adorably sweet and decidedly cute, and so he shared the letter with his listeners. He then explained that the letter referred to the lovely song, Life is a Symphony. The words and music of that enduring hymn were penned by one of the twentieth century’s most prolific song writers, pianists, and vocalists, Beatrice Bush Bixler. “Bea,” as she is known by so many made her entry into Christian music with the success of that song which was often included at Youth for Christ rallies around the mid-Western United States. It is a favorite of many, still today.
In the sleepy little town of Waverly on the Southern Tier of New York State, in 1916, a little girl was born to Mr. & Mrs. Will Bush. She was a weak and unwell child and one day as her mother was hanging the laundry in their back yard to dry, a neighbor inquired as to Bea’s health. Her mother reported that it was less than acceptable, and the neighbor said she would ask the people of her local church to join her in prayer for the healing and health of this little one. Her church had as one of its central teachings that Christ was the healer. Not long after, Bea made a recovery and became well and strong. Not long after her healing her family began faithful attendance at that very church. Bea, subsequently, had a healthy childhood, and would, while still a child, begin learning to play and to love the piano. She learned and improved so rapidly, that soon she was playing both by ear and by memorization; she was improvising; playing in the “evangelistic style” of the early twentieth century; and soon was playing in the evening services in that local church whose members had prayed for her healing. The church Bea, and her parents along with her mother’s seven sisters and their families would subsequently join, was the Waverly, New York Christian & Missionary Alliance Church [no less than seven full time pastors and missionaries of the C & M A came from the children of these eight sisters, and of their grandchildren over two dozen entered full-time Christian ministry]. Here, at that not-so-large Waverly church, she learned to play duets with her being at the piano and the church organist at the console. Her abilities were being widely recognized. Soon she was playing for the local youth organizations as well as in other area churches.
Recognizing that she had God-given gifts in the area of music, Bea left for The Missionary Training Institute [now Nyack College] in Nyack, New York to major in piano and voice. There she progressed so far that it was acknowledged that the faculty there could take her no further and thus she transferred to Houghton College in Western New York. She excelled in piano, voice, and composition. Her grasp of musical theory was highly advanced. All during this time she was actively playing for Gospel quartets, choirs, local churches, and for college touring groups. Her abilities were readily recognized and lauded. During many of these years and immediately after the completion of her musical training she travelled with the Bosworth Brothers Evangelistic team as their pianist and lead soloist. Youth for Christ continued to use Bea as well.
Not long after her educational stint at Houghton, Bea met and married the Rev. Clair Bixler, an ordained pastor in The Christian & Missionary Alliance Church. Together they would be pastor and wife in C & M A Churches and in The Missionary Church in Indiana, Illinois, and in New York. Together they raised four children two daughers and two sons Clair pre-deceased her some years ago.
Bea’s incredible output of Christian hymns, Gospel songs, and choruses is noteworthy. No less than 450 pieces have been written, but unfortunately the majority have never been either recorded or reduced to the written page. A significant number were published in two books of her music exclusively, by Singspiration Music in the 1960s and 1970s. Her regular musical leadership in “Winning Women” retreats in the mid-West led to the publication of a book of her choruses. One LP of her must was released by Christian Publications, Inc. in the early 1960s, Bea was the featured pianist on the trombonist Douglas Yeo’s solo album, which also included readings by Bill Pearce. Yoe’s is the only available recording still available, and all of her songs are either not committed to paper, out of print, or are unpublished and in the hands of this current author whose intent it is to bring them into publication in the not-to-distant future.
Bea ministered often at various district conferences across the Christian & Missionary Alliance, as well as at the General Council at various places. The list of churches where she musically supported missions conferences, Bible conferences, and evangelistic services is just too long to even begin naming. Bea had an uncanny ability to involve local musicians in duets with her, either with her at the piano and them at another instrument, or with them joining her in vocal numbers. I had the privilege of ministering in vocal duets and piano/organ concerts and church and conference ministries innumerable times over the past twenty-five years. She was always able to make one far-less-learned than herself, feel completely confident and every bit her equal when invited by her to join her in public ministry.
Beatrice Bush Bixler has been lauded for her insightful and inspiration lyrics and her hauntingly exquisite chording by musicians and faithful Christians far and wide. There are many, many internet search hits that bring up testimony-after-testimony to what Bea’s music has meant to them. And though often overlooked by her own denominational setting as a key composer, lyricist, and music minister, recognition came from other places with regularity and superlative praise and gratitude. She was named “Alumnae of the Year” by Nyack College in 1984. Bea was regularly used by the Hephzibah Heights and Hephzibah House organizations and was welcomed frequently in churches of every possible denomination or no denomination at all. Speak to anyone who knows Gospel music from the 1940s through the end of the twentieth century and they will know the name Beatrice Bush Bixler.
Today, Bea lives in her hometown of Waverly, New York where she and Clare moved upon his retirement from active ministry. She is fast approaching her 95th birthday, and is sharp and lucid though she has lost most of her ability to see and to hear. Her music is still ready at her recall, and she continues as a champion of musical excellence to the glory of God. Her hymn of confession, I Am Not Worthy, a perennial favorite of so many, was her unswerving testimony. Her incredible musical vocation has spanned some eighty years. One cannot but expect, that upon welcoming her home to glory one of these days, this self-declared “unworthy one,” will hear the words from her own Savior’s lips, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Could it just be, that in the new heavens and the new earth, there will be a grand piano for a graced lady. We who know Bea and who have been ministered to by her songs and by her personally, can only pray to God that it be so. Even so come, Lord Jesus.