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It's a Bon Voyage moment with choir members posing with Sylvester, seated front row,who is off to South Korea for 6 months.



Recently, through Facebook, a member of the MCCNY congregation issued a challenge to the 11 am choir: “Earth, Wind and Fire this Sunday?!?!?!” Prompted by the death of the great Maurice White, the founder of Earth, Wind and Fire, this helpful (and completely lovely) church member even suggested the song for us: “Fantasy”. It was late Friday afternoon, a day and a half before Sunday morning services.

Challenges like this are the things that make me love my job. Here is my chance to work with a team of singers and musicians so wonderfully diverse in their talents - and so fearless about trying new things - that we never get bored. Our rehearsals are short and intense: from 10-11 am on Sundays (8:15-9 for the 9 am choir), and that’s about it. We do our best to reflect the radically inclusive message of this church, that God works for good in all things –all languages, all instruments, all vocal types, and all genres of music.

We are often at our best under pressure. On February 7th of this year, we sang “Fantasy”, four days after the passing of Maurice White.  The song is complicated, and we focused hard as we sang, “Our voices will ring together / Until the twelfth of never / We all will live love forever, as one….”



Wow, how do they change their clothes in the middle of the song like that? The visuals are actually two performances merged into one, the first on Feb 7th and the encore on Easter Sunday.

I was taught early that there is a secular/sacred divide in music, but I’ve never been able to accept that. Music is (mostly) all good, and when it isn’t quite right, well, a little re-write never hurt anybody. We’ve performed Prince and Pachelbel, Gospel music and salsa, rock, punk, Bach, jazz, Radiohead, musical theater, 70’s soul, spirituals, hymns, masses and hip-hop. We sing in English, Latin, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian (a little), Arabic (ok, one of us does), and Icelandic (another one of us), and we’re always learning more.


My first experience leading the choir at the morning service was a total bomb. It was October of 2001, a challenging time to choose music for a New York City church service. I opted for a hymn, something simple and direct, and apparently familiar to me and me alone. I had recently become the music director for the evening service, and was working to build a small choir from scratch there. For the evening service I was able to enlist the help of my friend Carolyn Traore, and things were growing, but the choir at the morning service was already established, and used to someone else. After Carolyn started singing with the morning choir and I began selecting repertoire that was a better fit for the choir at the time, things changed. Our first hit was “On That Holy Mountain”, in December of 2011.


Slowly, new choir members began to show up, often recruited by current choir members. Every so often someone approaches me after a service, to inquire about joining the choir. These approaches fall into two distinct categories: the humble and the exalted. The humble ask goes something like this: “Hi! I really like your choir. Is there an audition?”  The exalted goes a little something like this: “I am a singer and have a lot of experience. You need me in your choir. Jesus said so. When can I have a solo?” I am working on opening myself up to the exalted approach, but I admit, I have more work to do on that.
Over the years the superstars-in-disguise who have joined our ranks continue to inspire me.  James, bringing his Broadway audition book to me, asking if he could audition for the choir; Theresa offering to sing alto after Denise moved to California; Robert mentioning that he’d like to rap; Kristofer wanting to know if a classically trained voice would fit in… We all have special skills: Dana for Disney, Aaron for when we need to cry, Carolyn for when we need to not cry; Alva and Philip, the only two who have been with the choir longer than I, with their wondrous musicianship and unrivaled dedication. Monte for the sass, Michel for the style, Samantha and Matteo for the power and the range of their voices, Colleen for discipline and fire. The newbies - Crys, Sylvester, and Thomas - proving their value every time they tap dance, or sing a punk song, or play the cello.
I make lists all the time.
Songs can we do with little preparation? (“Down By The Riverside”, for instance); songs about courage? (“Brave”; “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart”); social justice? (“Eyes On The Prize”), love, death, anger, joy; the list is long. Balancing the demands for new repertoire with demands for familiarity and tradition is part of the job.