Have Faith: Music that inspires

In this file photo, Community Chorus conductor Peter Boak guides a hundred-voice chorus through a rehearsal of Brahms' "German Requiem." — Sam Moore

Peter Boak — retired music teacher, director of the Island Community Chorus, minister of music, choir director, organist, and Great Dane enthusiast — is being honored on Sunday by the music committee and the Federated Church choir after the 9:30 am worship service. There will be a luncheon reception at the Mayhew parsonage right after the service.

Mr. Boak’s family first came to Martha’s Vineyard in 1904; he came to stay in 1994. He said his family used to spend two weeks here every summer when he was a child.

“I just remember how difficult it was when I was a kid when I had to go home,” Mr. Boak remarked. “It was very depressing as a kid to get on that ferry and go back to New Jersey, knowing we wouldn’t be back for another 50 weeks.”

When Mr. Boak decided to stay on the Island full-time, he was able to make a living by working at a bank, then as a music teacher at the Tisbury School, and as music director at Grace Church and then at the Federated Church. “Like a lot of people, I sort of had to invent myself when it came to making a living here,” he said.

Along the way he managed to regroup the Island Community Chorus, and is also celebrating 20 years of leading that musical ensemble this year. The Island Community Chorus will begin weekly rehearsals in September, he explained, and will perform its usual Christmas, spring, and summer concerts. His work as music director at the Federated Church, he said, is nonstop.

“We rehearse every week for an hour and a half,” Mr. Boak said. “Usually we don’t rehearse in August, but it’s a full 12 months.”

He enhances his career with freelance work at weddings and by heading up musical projects with other denominations. An avowed lifelong learner, Mr. Boak told me he loves working in many different settings. “I enjoy dealing in all types of music, playing for shows and theater, working with the Island Theatre Workshop, the cabaret at the Playhouse,” he said. “My newest venture is working three or four months with the choir at the Hebrew Center, getting ready for the high holy days.”

Mr. Boak retired from the Tisbury School in 2012, but said he thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to take part in the educational system. “I always took one- or two-week-long workshops at the Hartford Art School,” he said. “I really like being in a classroom setting and learning something new.”

He said that today, technology has brought more music into people’s lives. During his grandparents’ generation, he said, unless someone in the house played an instrument or had a radio, there wasn’t a lot of music at home. Despite the fact that nearly all of his professional life has been filled with music of some kind, at home he’d rather be reading a mystery than listening to Bach or Beethoven.

“When I’m at home, I’m not one to put on the radio,” Mr. Boak said. “I like to read — I’m a big mystery reader. And I like to cook.”

His favorite dish to make is chicken and sausage gumbo, a holdover from the eight years he spent working in Louisiana before he made it to the Vineyard. “I tend to make a huge batch and give it away for Christmas presents,” he said.

The 20 years he’s spent directing music at the Federated Church is the longest he’s ever held a position.

“It’s hard for me to even fathom, being at this for 20 years,” Mr. Boak said, “because it doesn’t feel like it.”

He was hired at the Federated Church only two years after arriving on the Island to live full-time.

“I’ve been at this job longer than any other I’ve ever had,” he said.

Now that he’s retired from his teaching job, Mr. Boak said he enjoys weekends at the church even more: “This is something I really look forward to. It keeps me focused.”

Besides his music, Mr. Boak has plenty going on at his family home in Oak Bluffs. His 97-year-old father lives with him, along with a 1-year-old Great Dane named Sadie and two cats.

“I am really very, very lucky,” he said.


The Net, the Islandwide ecumenical group, will begin another year on Sunday, Sept. 11, at 5 pm at St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown. There’s a new facilitator, Caitlin Kane, and a year full of trips and fun things planned. The group is gearing up for a ski trip, lock-ins, bowling, two trips to CityReach Homeless Ministry in Boston, and a yearend trip to Atlanta to study the Civil Rights Movement, according to St. Andrew’s rector, the Rev. Chip Seadale. The Net is supported by seven churches on the Island, and welcomes all middle school and high school students.

The Rev. Seadale also reports that preparations for the winter season’s overnight shelter for the homeless are beginning. The shelters, now called Houses of Grace, will benefit from a fundraiser held on Sunday, Sept. 11, at the Chilmark Community Church. Mezzo-soprano Lia Kahler will once again offer her vocal talents, along with organist Phil Dietterich and pianist Richard Gordon, for an afternoon of music. The event also benefits the Island Food Pantry, which is near and dear to the Reverends Armen and Vicky Hanjian, who are still at the helm of the Chilmark church. Tickets for the concert are $20 at the door. The silent auction begins at 2 pm, followed by the concert. Only 150 tickets will be sold, so everyone is encouraged to reserve their seats by calling 774-563-8219 or by emailing Lia at liakahlerandfriends@gmail.com.

Every other week, Connie Berry reports on the news, events, and people at Martha’s Vineyard’s various places of worship. If you have news for Have Faith, email it to connie.berry12@gmail.com.