Federated Church will share music and adventures with Island Sunday

The choir's first mass and concert in the Chiesa San Giuseppe, Church of St. Peter, in Mestre, outside of Venice. The congregation hosted a reception in the Parish House afterward, where Peter Boak gave the priest an autographed copy of the Ray Ellis book of Vineyard prints. — Photo courtesy of James Butterick

At 10:30 am, Sunday, July 8, the Federated Church Touring Choir will perform program selections from its Italy tour, including several sacred pieces during the service, and gospel songs, spirituals, and other selections afterwards.

Peter R. Boak will direct the choir and, with gratitude for the condition of our instrument, will play the newly refurbished Hook and Hastings organ.

The seeds of next Sunday’s concert were planted many years ago. Music has always been important to the Federated Church in Edgartown. The meetinghouse has excellent acoustics for worship service and is often a setting for secular music events. Since 1996, Mr. Boak has been the minister of music, serving as organist and choir director. Since his arrival, the group has grown in number from eleven singers to forty, more or less.

Mr. Boak has also inspired learning by offering great challenges to the singers. Their music ranges from many varied classical works to spirituals and contemporary pieces.

In October of 2000, the Federated Church was invited to host a choir traveling in the states from the little town of Bury St. Edmunds, in England, the town where Bartholomew Gosnold, the first Englishman to discover Martha’s Vineyard, had lived. Various members of the church and the choir hosted the singers and their chaperones, director, and pianist. The seed was sown; soon discussions began with Peter Boak, members of the choir, and the church council, hoping to plan an exchange trip to Great Britain.

Meanwhile, a huge fundraising campaign provided money for much-needed improvements and restoration projects of the three historic buildings in the church’s care. Church members, summer guests, and the Island community all contributed to restoring not only the Meetinghouse, but the Parish House next door and the Mayhew Parsonage on South Water Street. The last part of the project was to rebuild the historic Hook and Hastings tracker organ, which was returned last summer to the choir loft in the Meetinghouse, after many months in Danvers in the skillful hands of organ builder Jeremy Adams. Members of the church began to look for ways to give back to the Island community, which had supported the projects.

At the same time, the idea of singing abroad grew until, finally, in 2006 the Federated Church Choir, joined by several members of the community chorus, became the Federated Church Touring Choir, traveling to Great Britain and singing in various churches, including a concert in St. Edmundsbury Cathedral. The church gave enthusiastic support to the project, but funding was up to each participant. The trip was a huge success, with concerts in Scotland and Wales as well as England. On the return trip, discussion began for a subsequent tour, and three years later, they were singing in France and Switzerland.

On both of these tours, the singers discussed how we could share with the congregation and the Island community, our experiences and our concert music. This year, the choir traveled to northern Italy. Each concert was part of a regularly scheduled Mass, and, in three out of four venues, a short informal concert followed the service. During visits to Venice and Murano, our European guides shared history, stories, and background information.

Several people, including Garrett Brown, the organist and accompanist on the last two tours, contributed to the travel journal, noting, “Italy has churches the size of Chappy!”

Tenor Bill Veno wrote, “the acoustics in Chiesa San Giuseppe provided an awe-inspiring echo, which was quite a challenge, but we were adaptable, especially Garrett, who played the Mass music on an organ which was in the midst of repair.” Apparently they did not have to send the instrument away, as we did.

During a noon Mass at the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua, the choir was enthusiastically received; following the singing, Franciscan Father Alessandro Fortin provided a comprehensive tour of the building and the many works of art on display. The basilica has a unique layout, in that tours can take place even during worship services, as the inner part of the sanctuary is closed off in the center, and the art works are arranged on the periphery.

Kris Vrooman, who sings alto, recorded our adventures in Verona and noted the many street mimes, which included, she wrote, “two King Tuts, who abruptly removed their headdresses to talk to each other on cell phones.” Thus our historic tour suddenly entered the 21st Century.

Once again, upon returning, we tried to think of a way to share our adventures and our music with our Island community. Remembering how we participated in worship services in Italy, we decided to repeat the format in our own meetinghouse, inviting the public to attend and enjoy a free concert following a Sunday service.

Refreshments will be served in the courtyard, weather permitting (or in the Parish House, should it rain, as it did every day of the tour). Members of the choir will bring their photo books and will be more than willing to share their adventures.

The Federated Church is located at 45 South Summer Street, in Edgartown.