The Celebration of the Musical Arts at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
In a joyous coincidence, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Brewton, Alabama, has been promoting the theme of the 52nd Annual Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast—This is our story, This is our song. Since August of 2022, St. Stephen’s has been holding musical concert performances for the church and the community it serves. The story of the concerts began with the mission of bringing together members of St. Stephen’s and citizens of Brewton to hear highly skilled musical artists in the church sanctuary. Private funding of the Celebration of Musical Arts has made it possible to tell the story of the importance of music in worshiping and serving God. In reflecting on the concerts held over the past several months, the Rev. David Chatel, parish priest of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church notes, “The concerts we’ve had the honor of hosting at St. Stephen’s have been fantastic. Not only do we get to contribute culturally to our wider community, but we’re also able to directly involve others in the community spirit of the parish. People come to enjoy the arts and end up encountering the love of God through personal connection.”
The Celebration of the Musical Arts has highlighted an extensive range of genres of music: American folk, classical works, traditional gospel, classical Christian, Bluegrass, Broadway tunes, and much more. Each performance has provided concert goers with sweeping statements of the power of music to enhance one’s spiritual and emotional health.
The most recent concert featured the Atkinson Duo, a professional brother-sister team, who performed on the harp, violin, and piano. They delighted the audience with a wide-range of musical styles as they skillfully shaped a presentation with verve, commitment and, above all, elegance and grace. Rebekah Adkinson, harpist, reminded the audience that the first instrument mentioned in Holy Scriptures is the harp in the book of Genesis.
Jason Beasley, director of music and organist at St. Stephen’s, and guest performer Amy Selkirk, oboist, were featured in the inaugural concert this past August. The church organ is one of the largest pipe organs in the area and his playing showcased the power and range of the church’s instruments. Selkirk’s obligato part, such as on the nuanced Rheinberger Andate Pastorale, exhibited the unique ability of performers to participate in “dialogue” with one another. Their collaboration demonstrated talent and versatility by using music from multiple periods of history, including examples all the from the baroque period to composers of today.
Nancy Lyons Smith, a church musician and organist from Greenville, South Carolina, and a composer of church music with three books of hymn arrangements in print, performed works by Bach, Widor, List, Mozart and her arrangements of hymns for the second concert. Smith has performed in venues across Europe and in numerous churches in the United States. She has served as faculty member at Furman University and the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts.
Doors of the Heart, a band of five members who play various stringed instruments, joyfully performed American folk tunes, Bluegrass favorites, and original compositions by the members. Toe tapping and clapping resounded in the sanctuary during their enthusiastic performance.
A reception following each presentation has provided the artists the opportunity to engage with those in attendance. Future performances will be announced on St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church’s website http://www.ststephensbrewton.com/. All concerts are free and all are invited to attend.
Submitted by: Gwen McCorquodale, St. Stephen's, Brewton