As we continue through these challenging times, our Music and Worship Arts ministry continues to reach our congregation through more and different avenues than we’ve been used to in the past. This unexpected time of solitude has gotten a lot of folks thinking, and it had Robert Stovall, director of Music & Worship arts, wondering how to keep bringing fabulous music to our First Church family.
These new ideas, Robert says, “have required a tremendous amount of creativity, hard-work, and perseverance.” And, thanks to the work of everyone involved, we have added a number of new and different First Church music offerings that have been wildly popular, both in Sunday morning worship and via YouTube premieres and playlists. Now you can access these playlists anytime via SoundCloud or podcast from Spotify, Stitcher, Google Music, iHeart Radio — pretty much wherever you get your podcasts
In May, we began the “Hymn-a-Day May with Peggy and Friends” series hosted by Peggy Graff, Organist and Associate Director of Music & Worship Arts. Each day in May, we had a different person, ensemble, instrumentalist, or singer, present a favorite hymn, live and 2:00 pm each day on YouTube and Facebook Live, then archived on its playlist for the enjoyment of all to hear.
And this month, Peggy returns to host, “June Tunes,” following the same structure as Hymn-a-day May, but with the addition of some favorite past performances from our Choral Union and special staff guest stars, as well as some spectacular secular tunes. As with Hymn-a-day May, Peggy provides a brief explanation or story about each performance so the listener can learn a little bit more about the music before listening.
In the midst of the heart-breaking news surrounding choral singing (determined to be a “Super Spreader” of the COVID-19 virus) — and that it could be a year or more before choral singers can gather to sing as we have grown so accustomed to, it feels overwhelming to say the least. For many First Church members, the sight of our empty choir loft on Sunday mornings can be almost too much to bear.
To address this urgent need in our faith community, our Choral Union, directed by Director Robert Stovall, enlisted the help of one of their own – musician, editor, webmaster, and all-around whiz kid, Hans Grim, to help edit together the first-ever First Church virtual choir performance.
“It hasn’t been simple to put together,” Hans says, “but it has brought me such joy to be able to find a new way to bring choral music to the masses. And the choir members have been so kind to put their beautiful voices in my hands.”
Hans adds that the piece our Choral Union sang was by no means an easy piece of music to sing, demanding breath support and musicality at every turn. “One of the most striking and beautiful things that this project has highlighted for me is the inherent beauty of what choir is,” he continues. “It’s a place where everyone contributes to making something greater than any of us could do on our own. It can be a sort of ‘raw’ experience – entrusting your song and your voice to someone else to put together. I thank the choir members, Peggy, and Robert for letting me play a part in this undertaking. I just wanted to do them justice.”
“Members of Choral Union rose to full ‘virtual performance’ mode!” agrees Robert Stovall. They all worked very hard to prepare an arrangement of “Come Thou Fount” that the choir has sung for many years for a virtual choir performance for Sanctuary worship on Sunday June 7.
“This is the first of many virtual performances to come by Choral Union,” Robert says. “Hopefully, after this trial run we will be able to do more of these virtual presentations of music for our congregation.” Recognizing that a virtual performance isn’t nearly the same as in-person performance during worship, Robert adds, “I sincerely hope that this tremendous virtual choir feat will fill that choir-sized hole in your heart in the interim.”
Although it will be a long time before our Choral Union is able to sing during worship like they did in the past, Robert says that until then, this vibrant ministry will be exploring new and exciting ways to bring choral music to our congregation.