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Jul 26, 2011

Mentors & Trainers Help Episcopal Musicians with Their Vocations

[Episcopal News Service] Kenny Lewis grew up Pentecostal and admits he hated the first Evensong he attended. But at age 17 he fell in love with the Episcopal Church, singing at one of Alabama's largest parishes, studying with its organist and being confirmed in the church.


Lewis worked at Disciples of Christ and United Methodist churches and studied organ performance at college before becoming organist and choirmaster at Saint Simon Peter Episcopal Church in Pell City about four years ago. There, he welcomed the chance to be mentored by his former organ teacher, James Dorroh, through a new Association of Anglican Musicians (AAM) program.


"He's been in the Episcopal Church as long as I've been alive," Lewis said. Dorroh helped him find suitable anthems for his small choir and learn to plan both routine and special services, including choosing appropriate hymns following the church's lectionary. "I would not have felt comfortable at all if I had not had someone instructing me on how to do that."


The AAM mentorship program aims to provide that sort of comfort and guidance for church musicians who may lack experience in directing choirs, playing hymns or worshiping in a liturgical tradition. The organization launched the program as a pilot several years ago and now hopes to spread the word and serve more musicians.


A related two-year certificate program -- the ecumenical Leadership Program for Musicians (LPM) -- also hopes to expand and to join with local AAM mentors to provide hands-on instruction to accompany new online course opportunities.


"The Leadership Program for Musicians and the mentoring program are working hand-in-hand now," said Kyle Ritter, organist and choirmaster at the Episcopal Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, North Carolina . "The Leadership Program for Musicians is a program that lasts for a specific amount of time. It's a set of courses that leads to a diploma in church music."


The mentoring program is more flexible, focusing on specific needs the mentor and mentored musician identify -- anything from working with children's choirs to liturgy to hymn playing, said Ritter, who taught in the first leadership program in the dioceses of Virginia and Washington. "That relationship can go on for a very long time."


"It's really kind of cool that these two programs have kind of joined hands in a way," he said. "The mentoring program can kind of pick up where the LPM program stops."


Sharing wisdom


The mentoring program grew out of a conversation between then-AAM President Martha Johnson and Marilyn Keiser, who had chaired LPM during its first five years. Keiser is music professor emeritus of Indiana University and music director at Trinity Episcopal Church, Bloomington, Indiana. Johnson recently retired as organist and choirmaster at St. Peter's Church in the Great Valley, Malvern, Pennsylvania.


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