On Monday nights in the month of November Scott and I drive down to Paris TN to participate in the community choir Messiah rehearsals. Paris is a small Southern Bible belt community — smaller than my town by a good bit. It has its poor black neighborhoods. It has its socialite class. It has its numerous churches. It has its Walmart. And – surprisingly – it has a vibrant arts association that gets a lot of neat things to happen, including the biennial Messiah production. Its public school’s music program includes a string program; my town’s schools do not.
The rehearsals and performance are hosted by the First Baptist Church of Paris, presumably because their large facility can accommodate this. They actually have a dedicated rehearsal room, with tiered seating area, Kawai grand, music library, etc. And for the performance they have a choir loft above an orchestra pit at the front of their sanctuary.
Tonight in the choir rehearsal room I noticed a flier on the wall about a “Madrigal Reunion”. I overheard our director informing the First Baptist music director that if he ever needs a bassist for orchestral productions, he should call Scott. It flooded in upon me that in our American culture where efforts at high art are increasingly rare in the daily life of regular normal people, this Baptist church in a small Southern town is putting money towards keeping musical art alive; providing a supportive place for youngsters to get started and for oldsters to share the music they studied in college and loved then and now.
You remember that Bach was a Lutheran organist. You remember all the great music that originated as church music. What I am appreciating tonight is a small-town Baptist church in the Bible belt that stands in this tradition. That cares enough about music to outfit a choir rehearsal room with a nice Kawai grand. That is on speaking terms with madrigals and the arts council. That hosts the community Messiah production. Twenty years from now, the musical bar will be set a little higher in our area because this church took a stand alongside the arts council and the public school for musical education, participation and performance. Thank you!!!
Not every church should do this. It takes a lot of money, I’ll warrant. But those that have a compelling gift in this direction should do it!