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 March 2005 People

Baroque Music and Modern Love

While those of us at SN would love to say that we intentionally chose to profile an ASTM member who plays the recorder during a month officially dedicated to that medieval musical instrument, the truth is that we’re just not that clever. The fact that recorder-playing Ben E. Edwards is our “People person” for March (the month designated “National Play-a-Recorder Month” by the American Recorder Society) is just a coincidence, but a happy one.

Edwards, a member of ASTM International’s Committee C09 on Concrete and Concrete Aggregates since 1976, has been playing recorders for decades. He remembers seeing a recorder in a shop window in 1955, being taken by the look of it, and immediately buying it. He learned how to play and now enjoys attending recorder workshops and playing with small groups locally. Recently, Edwards attended workshops in Vancouver and San Francisco.

Though recorders were extremely popular during the Renaissance (King Henry VIII owned 76 of them at the time of his death, according to the ARS Web site), the small instrument fell out of favor once huge concert halls began to be built in the 19th century. However, the recorder has made a comeback, in part because of the workshops where Edwards and other recorder lovers play pieces by Bach, Telemann and other Baroque era composers, as well as music from the 13th through the 20th century. The workshops can be specifically recorder-oriented, or they may be more generally focused on period instruments, but the recorder is always an important factor in the music.

When Ben Edwards is not playing his recorder, he might be found performing a wedding as a lay minister. Because there are no ordained Unitarian Universalist ministers within 100 miles of his North Carolina home, the congregation at his U.U. church made him their legal agent to perform marriages.

The first weddings over which Edwards presided were for family members and congregants, but he has performed many types of marriage ceremonies over the last 20 years. “When people who want to be married are not acceptable to, or interested in, the mainline churches in my area, they come talk to me,” says Edwards.

A wedding between a conservative Jewish bride from Chicago and a Southern Baptist from South Carolina remains one of Edwards’ favorites. “The wedding occurred on the banks of a lake, with 60 to 80 family members from each side,” says Edwards. “During the reception, the bride’s family danced as the groom’s brother and two daughters performed ‘Hava Nagilah’ on guitar and clarinet. Everyone got along great.”

A “humanist, agnostic Unitarian Universalist skeptic, if I have to be labeled,” Edwards enjoys being a member of his congregation because “I can be comfortable expressing myself and be accepted whether or not people agree with me.” In addition to marriage duties, Edwards occasionally preaches — the topic of his most recent Sunday sermon was stem cell research.

Edwards and his wife Shirlee have a blended family of nine children and 20 grandchildren. Edwards has performed the wedding ceremonies for five of his children, as well as for a nephew. While Edwards is a self-employed consultant who operates BEE Laboratories in Blowing Rock, N.C., he says these days he is “very nearly retired.”

Of all the C09 subcommittees in which he’s been involved, Edwards has been most active in Subcommittee C09.22 on Materials Applied to New Concrete Surfaces. Edwards chaired C09.22 for a decade, has served as its secretary for nine years, and says he has “essentially edited or rewritten just about everything under C09.22.” Edwards has also written a chapter for a special technical publication due to be published in May and has been heavily involved in C09’s terminology subcommittee. Helping to bring people together is an important part of Ben E. Edwards’ life and ministry, but it is also something he appreciates about his work with ASTM.

“From the time I first went to ASTM meetings, I have always been very impressed by the atmosphere and procedures, as well as the consensus methods used and the collegiality of the membership,” says Edwards. “C09 is especially strong in establishing a place where competitors and people with differing opinions can sit down together and talk them out. I’ve very much enjoyed interacting with members of C09 in this way over the years.” //

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