“We got married on a Saturday, drove to Atlanta to spend the night and came to Fayetteville the next day.” Mississippi native Joy Cogswell’s wedding story is relatable for many military spouses living in Cumberland County. And, like many others who planned to only pass through, Joy and her husband, Bob, ended up putting down roots in Fayetteville and building a life here.
This month, Joy retired from 45 years of playing piano in multiple capacities for Snyder Memorial Baptist Church, including every Sunday morning’s traditional 11 a.m. service. She loved what she did; in those 45 years, she only took four Sundays off.
Joy and Bob arrived in Fayetteville Sept. 20, 1970, with plans to stay here for Bob’s four years of Air Force service. But then, they found Snyder Memorial — a place to worship that felt like home. “It’s hard to find (the spirit they carry) in a lot of other places,” she said. “That is what drew us to stay here, was Snyder.”
Joy, who studied music education and piano at Florida State University, was recruited for her musical talents soon after joining Snyder. In December of 1970, now-retired Minister of Education Wayne Ham asked Joy to teach first-grade choir.
“It’s kind of neat because children who were in that choir are now grown, one of them being Wayne’s son, Bruce,” Joy said. “He was 6 years old at the time, and now he’s in his early 50s.”
Teaching first-grade choir was the start of a career in which Joy touched many more lives and saw many more young musicians grow up.
When then-Snyder Music Director Bob Haynes formed a youth choir in 1971, Joy served as its accompanist — and later its director for 12 years. She took her position as official church pianist when the church purchased its first grand piano in January of 1974.
In 1984, she began leading a young-musicians’ preparatory program at Methodist University, which was at that time Methodist College. Under her leadership, the program grew to 400 students strong.
Joy also pioneered the offering of Kindermusik, an internationally respected children’s music education program, in Fayetteville. In 1990, when Kindermusik introduced new curriculum for toddlers, Joy trained and got certified to teach it. Soon, at the Arts Council and at Methodist University, she was offering the first-ever Kindermusik classes in town. She still teaches Kindermusik classes — free of charge — to residents of the Fayetteville Metropolitan Housing Authority. FMHA is a nonprofit that helps low-income community members secure safe, affordable housing.
One of Joy’s most significant positions, which she will continue to hold after stepping down as pianist, is as director of The Snyder Music Academy. Larry Dickens succeeded Haynes as Snyder’s music director in 1999 with dreams of starting a music academy. Of course, he looked to Joy for help, and of course, she said yes. She came on as director of The Snyder Music Academy in 2002, leaving her job at Methodist in 2003 to focus fully on the new program — a program that grew from zero to 400 students in its first year.
Today, The Snyder Music Academy offers lessons in most instruments, singing and music therapy to children and adults throughout the region.
Joy also added Kindermusik to the mix at Snyder. Her program there has been designated a Maestro Top Program for the past 20 years — which means she is recognized as being in the top 5 percent of Kindermusik educators internationally.
Over the years, Joy also helped create and run the Dogwood Festival sanctioned event Festival of Keyboards; accompanied Snyder’s Adult Choir and Men’s Ensemble; and served as Snyder’s Children’s Choir coordinator and Young Musicians Choir director.
Shortly before playing her last Sunday morning service, Joy reflected on what playing piano means to her. “I believe God gave me a gift to be able to share his love through my hands,” she said. “That’s always been my goal: to have people not look at me, but to … hear what God is trying to say to them through the music.
“I can’t say enough about the three ministers of music I served under at Snyder.” Richard Suggs, who arrived five years ago, was the third minister of music Joy served under. “Each was different, but they were all wonderful,” she said.
She called her church family of nearly 50 years one of the most loving congregations she has ever known.
She also said her career would not have been possible without her husband. “He has been so supportive; he even joined the choir and the orchestra so he could see me. He has been my biggest supporter our whole marriage,” she said. "I love him dearly.”
Of settling down in Fayetteville, Joy said, “Of course, that was God’s plan for us. That was not what we had planned to do at all. And we’ve been very happy that we did.”
And it seems big plans for Joy’s life are not finished. Pepper Choplin, a well-known composer of choral and sacred music, recently asked Joy to play piano for a one-day concert he’ll be conducting at Carnegie Hall this May. The concert is called “Immortal Invisible: The Music of Pepper Choplin And Mary McDonald.”
“I am honored; I think it’s God’s way of showing me that he’s got opportunities out there for me still,” Joy said.
Photo: Joy Cogswell