By KAREN ROSEN
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Sidney Reed, 92, plays the violin with the choir at the New Beginnings United Methodist Church. ‘We get along as friends,’ he says.

Sidney Reed talks with Judy Munson after the service at New Beginnings United Methodist Church in Kennesaw.

Oh, and one other thing: He’s Jewish.

“He makes the melody kind of soar over the congregation,” said Amanda Graham Brown, the pianist and choir leader. “It’s a mutual blessing that we’ve given each other.”

The 200-member congregation at the New Beginnings United Methodist church in Kennesaw embraces Reed as one of its own.

“They know my background,” Reed said. “We get along as friends. Religion doesn’t interfere.”

Reed has been playing at the church for nearly 11 years. He accompanies the choir and often solos.

“It’s something to do in my old age,” said Reed, who’s fit as, well, a fiddle.

The church provides him with a social, as well as a musical, outlet.

Reed admits that he and his wife, Betty, 84, miss “the Yiddish thing” they had in Brooklyn, N.Y., but their synagogue, Kol Emeth, is more than half an hour away from where they live.

He finds fellowship at the church, where he also rehearses Wednesday nights.

“Even though we may not share the same faith, we’re his family, and he counts on us,” said Angela Clark, a choir member. “He’s become our adopted granddaddy. Everybody loves Sidney.”

The Reeds moved to Acworth in 1996 to share a house with their daughter and son-in-law. A sign at the door says “Shalom,” Hebrew for peace, hello and goodbye.

A neighbor who sings in the New Beginnings choir had heard Reed practicing when the sound carried through the window.

“She said, ‘Would you want to come to our church and play?’ “ he recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t know.’ She said, ‘We have a very beautiful pianist.’ I said, ‘OK.’ And I’ve been going there every since.”

He’s even outlasted that pianist.

Reed recently segued from “Onward Christian Soldiers” to Mozart’s “Minuet in F,” followed by Handel’s “Minuet in F” and back to “Onward Christian Soldiers.” He also played “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” even though the hymn doesn’t follow his own religious beliefs.

“As he says, music is music no matter where you play it,” Betty Reed said. “They’ve treated him so well.”

For his 92nd birthday last August, the church held a recital in his honor. On Jewish holidays, they play traditional Jewish music. They’ve also played one of his favorite songs, “Yesterday,” by the Beatles.

Brown, who is married to pastor Scott Brown, said Reed is known for his improvisation. In one hymn, she said, “Sidney did a ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ improv. People went crazy.”

Four of the boys in the congregation were inspired to take up the violin after watching Reed.

He was only 9 years old when he began playing. After a couple of years of instruction, the Depression hit and the lessons stopped.

“I just kept playing,” Reed said. “When I heard a song, I’d play it by ear.”

It was raining the day the family with nine children was evicted from its home in Brooklyn. A Steinway piano Reed’s father had bought for $1,000 was ruined, but the violin survived.

He took it with him to play summer jobs in hotels in the Catskill Mountains.

Did he make good money?

“Are you kidding? We were lucky just to get the food and board.”

In World War II, Reed was a sergeant with a tank destroyer battalion. His violin came with him.

“We had shows at the barracks,” he said.

After the war, he sold drugstore sundries and retired at 75.

What would the people in the old neighborhood in Brooklyn think if they saw Reed now?

“They’re all gone, I’m sure,” he said. “I don’t think they would think it’s a sin. They were liberal-minded.”

Brown told Reed that she gets emotional knowing that he won’t always be playing at her side.

“She’d be lost without me,” he said, “so I’m going to stay as long as I can.”


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