Gratitude for Musical Gifts — My Easter Reflection

Gratitude for Musical Gifts — My Easter Reflection

When I began my tenure in January as your Artist in Residence, I knew in my heart how deeply “right” this call felt to me. It was a call I did not take lightly & one that felt like the very right next place for me to share my passion for bringing people together through music, even more specifically through singing.

I have known for many years how rich this Old First community was in Spirit & in musical talent, having taught private voice lessons to Jordana Composto, Sarah Wagenfeld & Trixie Steiner-Rose and witnessed their extraordinary growth, both as young women and as beautifully gifted young singers. Through my relationship as their voice teacher, I was blessed to also get to know their parents better over the years and hear so often of the many wonderful “goings-on” in the church.

Having been the Director of Music across town over at Tabernacle United Church since 1991, I certainly knew Julie Steiner and she and I would often dream of “one day” collaborating with our choirs. But, as our lives were just so intensely busy, that project never came to pass. But, as we all know, God works in mysterious ways, and now I have the immense pleasure of collaborating with Julie and this choir on a weekly basis!! A blessing that there are simply no words sufficient to express right now…

I share all of this, as I really felt moved to publicly express to the best of my ability how deeply grateful I feel at this moment, after having just experienced one of the richest and most beautiful Lenten seasons I can remember, and how it has everything to do with this amazing community of singers, our pastor’s humble, open and creative leadership, and this congregation’s genuine and loving support of the crucial role that music holds for them in the life of the church.

Specifically, I wanted to thank all of the choir members, who have so graciously adapted to my “system” of rehearsal and worship participation protocol, in order to create a strong choral community and enrich our musicianship and strengthen the many aspects of this choral community through consistent and dedicated ensemble work. The results for me have been palpable throughout the season, as I have been so amazed at how hard everyone has worked through focused rehearsals and even extra time with some study CD’s for our incredibly challenging a cappella Easter anthem, All Flesh is Grass. It reinforced for me personally my belief that immense focus, dedication and hard work truly is worth it in order to immerse ourselves deeply into the music. Many choirs can sing choral music at sight or even with one rehearsal or a “brush up” rehearsal, if it is a piece with which they are familiar. They can indeed feel wonderfully about their interpretation and bring joy to the listeners as well. However, one thing I have learned over 30+ years as a choral director in church as well as outside of church, AND as a choral singer all of my life (!!), is that, when we have time to truly savor the music we are singing, and understand not only our own vocal line, but how it interweaves with the other vocal lines and/or accompaniment, and also what might have inspired both the lyricist, poet, and composer, we bring an added depth of interpretation to the work that enables us to be the open vessel for the music and therefore hopefully reach the listeners’ heart and souls at a deeper level. This I know not only from my own experience, but from the feedback I hear from choir members and congregation members weekly.

I am also grateful for the instrumentalists who have shared their gifts through enhancing the music throughout the season, including Griffin Drutchas , Marjorie Wilhite, Blossom Gica, Julie Steiner, Adam Sherr, & Sarah Sherr. I continue to discover others in the congregation who play instruments well & are hopefully willing to share with us in the coming months! I am also grateful to our organist, Kyle Shephard, for filling our sanctuary with the glorious colors of our wonderful organ, and look forward to his increased participation in the coming months, as his schedule begins to shift & lighten up.

So many gifts – such deep blessings. As we journey through this hope-filled season of Easter promise, I am hopeful to keep the musical momentum moving forward and certainly invite ANY & ALL of you who might enjoy singing with the choir or playing your instrument in worship services to connect with me to see how that might look! One does not need to be proficient in reading music, but simply enjoy singing, be able to carry a tune and be open to expanding their vocal and ensemble singing technique through dedicated rehearsal participation. (The good news is that one can sing as much or as little as one is able, so please don’t hesitate to ask, even if you think you are too “busy”!) Please feel free to contact me at for further info on how you can be involved in our musical life of the church!


Holly Phares, Artist in Residence