A dozen men and women gather in front of the altar at St. Angela Merici Catholic Church. They sing “White Christmas” in unison, their voices reverberating off the marble floors and wooden arches of the church. Led by music director David Tidyman, they go over the song again and again as he softly plays piano over their vocals.
It was their last rehearsal before the church’s Christmas concert Sunday afternoon, and everything had to be perfect – especially since it would be Tidyman’s last.
“It’s going to be a teary occasion,” Tidyman, 67, said last week. “I’ve had people tell me that this is how they start their holiday season. Plus, I’ve been doing this for so long, I don’t think you could ever be prepared for something so emotional.”
Tidyman has been with St. Angela Merici on Lorain Road for more than 20 years. In September, he decided along with pastor the Rev. Michael J. Lanning that he would take a step back from his position in the summer.
The Christmas concert, which Tidyman created in 2010, is no small deal. Since its beginning, the show has attracted nearly 400 people from the county, even from states like Texas to listen to it. This year 300 people attended.
The concert featured 10 pieces such as “White Christmas,” “Jingle Bells” and “O’ Holy Night” sung by both the adult and children’s choirs. The Blue Water Chamber Orchestra accompanied the choirs throughout the hour-long performance.
“I’ve been a priest for over 40 years,” Lanning said. “I’ve worked with a lot of musicians over the years and he’s got to be in the top tier.”
A Lakewood resident since 1976, Tidyman wears multiple hats within the church. When he isn’t coordinating the Christmas concert, he provides music for funerals and weddings and is the main organist.
“David is a real poet of the piano,” Lanning said. “I think people don’t realize how integral the music is for our parish. He’s been wonderfully essential for us.”
Once he retires, Tidyman plans to perform concerts and play part time in local churches. He also wants to give back to the community and work with emotionally challenged kids, providing music therapy as an outlet.
Born in Cleveland’s Old Brooklyn neighborhood and raised in Lakewood, he described himself as a punk who was detached from the world while he was young. When he heard his sister playing Mozart on the family piano, he begged his parents to enroll him in piano classes.
“My whole body came alive when I heard her playing,” Tidyman said. “My world felt complete. It was the safest place in the world to me.”
His first job was working as a pianist for Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Lakewood at age 14. After graduating from Lakewood High School, he studied music at the University of North Texas, where he worked with professional organists and composers.
His fondest memory of playing music is when he first realized the power of it, Tidyman said. While working for a church in Gainesville, Texas, he was invited to have dinner at a farmer’s house in exchange for a night of music.
“It made me fully understand the power of what I was doing,” he said. “To be able to play with him and soothe his spirit, it really changed me.”
Prior to playing for St. Angela, Tidyman was the music director at Rocky River Presbyterian Church until 1994. He taught private piano lessons for a year before getting the job at the Roman Catholic parish. He said he will miss the community and connections he’s made over the years the most.
“One of my beliefs is that you cannot make great music without making great relationships,” he said. “People become very open to music when they become open to you.”
Despite stepping down from his position as the church’s music director, Tidyman said he won’t ever forget the effects his music had on those who listened.
“My favorite memory of the church is being able to look into the eyes of people who have been greatly moved by the music that I’ve been able to provide to them,” he said. “To see the reflection of happiness in their eyes as a result of being touched by my music is the most fulfilling thing I could see.”
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