Today, our church staff welcomed our new Minister of Music Michael Smith to St. Thomas’ with fresh flowers in his office and wonderful things to eat as we attended our weekly planning meeting. Michael is very excited to be with us, and we are ecstatic to have him on board.
When I first met Michael there was an immediate connection. He is charismatic and fun. Michael exudes energy. He’s very creative, knows what he’s about and what’s he’s doing and is open to trying things. People told us, “You are going to love his music and working with him.”
Michael hit the ground running. He’s been through some of the church buildings, tidying up, assessing musical resources, getting things ready. He’s eager to start and help us grow an exceptional, highly-participatory excellent music program with breadth and depth.
Michael is thinking about music that we can sing together this summer and fall which will make our hearts swell with joy. While he has exceptional gifts for working with children, youth and adults, his top priority is developing our congregational song. The congregation is our first choir. All other choirs support and work of the congregation to sing God’s praises.
Michael was the Chair of Performing Arts PreK-12 at the Shipley School, where he oversaw a comprehensive performing arts curriculum and conducted the middle and upper school choirs. He also served part-time as the Organist and Choirmaster at the Church of the Good Shepherd. He had the widest breadth of musical background of those we interviewed in our national search.
Please make a special effort to join us this Sunday at 10 a.m. for Michael’s first worship service with us and stay for a special reception after church to offer Michael a warm St. Thomas’ embrace. We want to help Michael feel extremely well received in his new church home.
With gratitude for the Christian love that you exude and share,
Below is Michael’s article submitted for the “June Parish Call.”
So much to sing about, so much to praise you for,
so much I cannot live without and so much more:
at which display of majesty the very stones are moved to shout.
-Jaroslav Vajda, 1989
Why does “Amazing Grace” inevitably pop up at weddings, funerals, prayer vigils, or back-of-the-bus-with-guitar youth trips? It’s a cultural commonality in days when those are increasingly hard to come across. Perhaps it’s because anyone who knows it first encountered it at one of those life-searing transition moments and it’s become fixed as “the thing to sing when we need to sing.”
The song needs to come out. It’s built into us. We knew this when we were children. Is there something that keeps you from letting your song out? That grammar school music teacher who told you to stand in the back and mouth the words; that friend or sibling who was truly more talented than you; our weird cultural ideas about what simply is and isn’t done; the idea that the choir is doing a fine job and your voice would just get in the way- all of these myths are just that- myths.
Coming to St. Thomas is for me an answer to years of prayer; I have had a vocation, a calling, for Church Music work since I was an early teenager. In future articles, I will share with you formative moments in my life that have refined that calling and brought me to be here with you. This summer, and during my first program year, I hope to learn your individual and common stories. I want to hear about what makes you cringe in worship, and what makes your soul move. I want to hear about your dreams and stories for our music program. This will happen in several ways- email surveys, conversations at coffee hour, visits. By getting all this data, I hope to work with Rev. Marek, Mother Liz, and the rest of the staff to build a strategic plan for music here that is visionary, achievable, and committed to excellence. A major part of the focus will be the building up of the Chorister program for children and youth. We will be going out into the community and inviting children from outside the parish to join us. I will need your help as missionaries and P.R. representatives- more on that soon.
You will find out that hymn singing is one of my favorite things in the universe. Singing is the glue that holds us together as a community- , it binds us into something stronger than ourselves, and empowers us for service. We sing together when we need comfort, or when we can’t contain the joy that is inside of us. Enabling people of all stripes to find their voice individually and communally is a passion of mine. What can you expect? The music will be balanced in both comforting and challenging you, and helping to equip you for your ministries. It will flow from our “center of sensibility” which is determined by getting to know you inside and outside of corporate worship. Finally, it will be diverse in the most expansive sense of the word- not as a token, but sacramentally- in the service of becoming all things to all people, rooted in our glorious Anglican tradition of hymnody.
So- ask me questions. Tell me your concerns and hopes. Let’s work together to make St. Thomas’, Whitemarsh the place to be for lively congregational song, excellent choral music, a thriving program for children and youth, and a place where there is so much to sing about.
So much to sing about: all I have seen and heard,
Your glory in my talents’ use my best reward:
that others see what I have seen and sing with me: “It is the Lord!” (Vajda)