Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 50 year old Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 150 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and impending hockey arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Monday, January 30, 2017

Choirmaster's Report to the Annual Parish Meeting - January 29, 2017

Last year was a pretty exciting, if somewhat turbulent year.  We saw some big changes in the choir. 
First, we lost three members: Soprano Giles Simmer took a maternity leave, and subsequently decided to make that leave permanent.  We were very lucky to be able to get Hannah Sparrow to fill in for Giles on a temporary basis.  And we were thrilled that she then accepted the ‘permanent’ position. Alto Brittany Ward was offered a job in New York at the beginning of the summer.  This left us in a tricky situation because we were down to two.  And I learned about this after the roster of summer quartets was in place.  The situation got even more dire with illness, but we managed to make it through the summer without any though things got very near the knuckle.  On one occasion, a substitute was finally obtained in the very early hours of Sunday morning! Lastly, Catharine Langmuir decided it was time to step down.  She had been thinking about this for several years because of family ties and commitments.  Ever since she rejoined the choir, Catharine had taken care care of the choir library, sang in the choir, and hosted choir parties at her home.  We all miss her very much indeed.  But we are happy to see her on those rare occasions when her schedule allows her to be with us in Church. 
The most exciting thing about last year was restoration of the choir budget.  This allowed me to go back to having 16 singers – four in each section. This gives us several advantages: First it means we have a richer and fuller sound.  Second it means that we can do certain pieces that require many different parts.  And third, it means that on those occasions when the inevitable last minute illness strikes, our work is not too compromised.
            The new singers I hired are found in the alto, tenor and bass sections;  alto Helen Haas and tenor Shohei Kobayashi are both graduate students at The University of Michigan; and alto Mysti Burns and bass Jeff Burns sing at Michigan Opera Theatre.  They also happen to be married.
            I thought we had many memorable moments last year: notably though would have to be the extraordinary singing of Adrian Leskiw and Constantine Novotny in Stainer’s Crucifixion on Good Friday.  It was something of a miracle that it came off, because Adrian was actually going through a ruptured appendix which finally made its presence fully felt on Easter Saturday. As you may recall, he was gone until the summer. I also thought the music at the Corpus Christi Mass was particularly memorable.
            I’m happy to report that the choir’s fine work is recognized beyond the four walls of St. John’s.  Last week we were invited to be the Choir for a Great Festive Service next September.  The service will take place in the glorious acoustics of the Basilica of St. Adalbert in Grand Rapids.  It will be a joint program for five different Chapters of the American Guild of Organists, and will mark the beginning of their various seasons.  The preacher will the National Chaplain of the Guild.
I can’t let the year pass without expressing again my thanks to Chris Sayers for his help behind the scenes in running the program.  Chris is invaluable in finding new and substitute singers.  And I hope none of us takes for granted the lovely commentaries on music that appear every Sunday, or the rather spectacular special service booklets for Easter and Christmas for which Chris generously donates countless hours of his time.
            The big ‘future event’ this year will be saying goodbye to David Heinze, our fifth John Leigh Edwards Organ Scholar.  David has been with us for almost two years. In May, he graduates from Hope, and will begin graduate studies in the Fall.  David’s in the rather envious position of having to choose between lots of options.  Where to go? Which offer to accept?
            David turned down Yale’s invitation to audition there… So now it’s down to deciding whether it’ll be the Royal College of Music in London, where he’s been accepted and offered a scholarship; or whether it’ll be The Royal academy of Music, in London, where he’s also been accepted, and also offered a scholarship.  Or whether it’ll be Cambridge University, where he’s been unofficially accepted and offered the graduate Organ Scholarship at Selwyn College.
            Wherever he chooses to go, we’ll all miss David very much.  He has greatly enhanced our worship with his fine playing, and enriched our community with his kind and thoughtful ways.  As you might imagine, no one will miss him more than I will, and not just because of the sandwiches that he makes to eat on our weekly trips across the wilds of Michigan.

            And lastly, of course, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to our Rector, the Vestry, and you the people of St. John’s who continue to bless me personally with your singing and your prayers.