Staff Photo: Erin Evans<br.
Sisters Becky Ramsey and Alice Walker are marking a very special anniversary this year: 40 years as pianists at Salem Camp Meeting.
COVINGTON -- For twin sisters Becky Ramsey and Alice Walker, Salem Campground is home.
The duo has been filling the historic tabernacle with strains of spiritual hymns from their pianos at the annual camp meeting for 40 years now, and there's no place else they love more. They recently reminisced about their many joyful times at the campground while rocking on the porch at Salem Hotel, one of their favorite pastimes.
The place holds much of their personal histories. Ramsey can point right to the spot where she met her husband, former Covington Mayor Sam Ramsey, behind the hotel at a concession stand more than 40 years ago. On a misty fall evening, Walker got engaged to Ken Walker under the Tabernacle, and the couple read I Corinthians 13, St. Paul's epistle on love, from a Bible they found on a pew.
Their parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary at Salem, and it has been the site of many family reunions and birthday celebrations. But it's the annual camp meeting that is most sacred of all these get-togethers.
"It's a great time to be refreshed in your spiritual beliefs, and reinforced," said Walker of the weeklong, non-denominational gathering of worshipers. "It's a mountain top experience for sure."
The women say Salem is special because of the many great sermons preached there, the music, the spiritual experience and bonding time with family and friends. Oh, and, "The food. Don't leave out the food," Walker said. They are especially fond of the homemade ice cream dished up after evening service.
But more important to them is the orthodox Christian message continually preached from the pulpit. It's a reminder of the fundamentals of their faith.
"You are encouraged to go out from Salem and take the message into the world," Walker said.
The twins have achieved celebrity status at Salem, especially among the children, who demand they always dress alike. (They do wear tags, one with the letter A and one with B to prevent confusion.) One year, they received the sincerest form of flattery when two little girls donned red wigs, marched to the front of the Tabernacle, nodded to each other, took their seats at the pianos and played Chopsticks in unison.
Ramsey and Walker don't deny their strong bond. They've always been close, often wearing the same outfit without planning to, even missing the same questions on tests in school, though they studied separately. They sometimes finish each other's sentences, and eat supper together nearly every evening. They started making music together at age 5 and have developed their own style they bring to Salem and various local concerts throughout the year.
Mostly at Salem, they like to stick to the classic hymns, though they don't shy away from creating their own arrangements.
"We think about the great hymns of the church as what people love to sing and hear," Ramsey said. Yet, "We always try to have something new every year," Walker added.
They play at two to three services a day and spend much of their off time practicing.
"Music is an offering to God. It's our worship. We present music to God, and we put a lot of prayer into the planning process," Ramsey said.
This year, the sisters will have for sale copies of their latest CD, "The Spring Organ Concert," with proceeds to benefit Salem Campground. It's the sixth CD they've recorded and features both piano and organ selections.
When not at Salem, Ramsey and Walker can be found playing the organ at their respective churches. Ramsey is organist and director of the Senior Adult Choir at Covington First United Methodist Church, while Walker holds those same positions at Covington First Presbyterian Church. They bring their choirs together for a joint performance during camp meeting.
They both hold bachelor's degrees from Agnes Scott College and have earned two certifications from the American Guild of Organists.
In August, they will perform at the country's oldest church, The Cathedral Basilica in St. Augustine, Fla.