A lot of folks know Peter Boak as the fearless leader of the Island Community Chorus, but he’s also been music minister at the Federated Church in Edgartown for 25 years. The church will honor him with a reception after the Sunday, Oct. 31, 10 am service. In fact, we chatted via email, and Peter wrote that he’s been on an organ bench on Sunday mornings since he was 17 or 18 years old.
I asked him how he felt about music at church, as compared with leading the community chorus. “The music sung at ICC stands by itself and speaks for itself,” Peter wrote. “For me, that’s not what church music is about. Music in the church is an integral part of the Sunday morning experience, and cannot be separated from it.”
The church is thrilled to salute Peter this weekend, with at least some of the congregation able to attend in person. COVID has made church services all over the Island more challenging, and for a music minister, that was a true test. Learning how to prerecord church services, complete with worship music, was just one of the obstacles. The Rev. Charlotte Wright is serving as interim minister at the church, and said that for a good portion of her time in that most recent role, she worked closely with Peter, making the best of the new situation.
“Peter’s and my commitment was to create a worship experience on a video, so we did stick to the worship format, but with the ability to add in other video recordings and tape recordings of other choirs, it got really creative,” Rev. Wright said, “and we had to do all of it in an empty church with no congregation.”
The two would go into the church on a Wednesday or Thursday and work with audiovisual whiz Anthony Esposito to create a worship service. “We had to do all of it in an empty church with no congregation … It really was an out-of-the-box experience to try to do that; both mine and Peter’s experience has always been a live congregation in a full church.”
Peter’s ability to roll with the punches is something that has served him well these past 25 years. He has worked with nine different ministers over the years, which likely means his role has added a layer of comfort to the church. “I think my role gave the church some stability during these times; people knew the choir and the music they heard each Sunday weren’t going to change regardless of who might be up in the pulpit.”
Walter Vail and his wife Scottie have sung in the church choir for years, and they give Peter a lot of credit. “He’s been extremely important in my view, with all the changes we’ve had in the pastor the last six years,” Walter told me. “He’s been the thread that has kept us together. The choir has been mostly the same through all the changes, and it’s been extremely important for the choir — and for Peter — to be there through it all. He’s been great. Nothing fazes him; he just keeps going.”
Before all the COVID restrictions, Peter said some of the best memories he has of the past 25 years include trips to Europe with the choir.
“Over these 25 years, the choir has made four trips to Europe as ambassadors of the faith,” Peter wrote. “We traveled to England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Switzerland, and Italy, singing in massive cathedrals and ancient chapels. We met wonderful people, forged new friendships, saw marvelous sites, and strengthened the bonds of friendship within the choir itself.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to write about someone a lot of people already know — especially someone as highly regarded as Peter. One of his old friends, Anne Vose, sent me an email that talked about their friendship. “I have known Peter for almost 30 years,” Anne wrote. “We worked together at the Edgartown National Bank for five years, just before he became the organist at the Federated Church. I recall that he headed up the accounting department, and the bursts of laughter coming from that office down the hall were memorable.”
There’s a lot to be said for longtime friendships, and I think Anne’s words sum up what everyone had to say about Peter: “Peter loves, loves, loves life … and music … and singers … and the combination means that we have been extremely fortunate that he has served us in all those capacities. He is the very dearest of men. We all cherish him and count our blessings that he has served our church for so many years.”
Remember to celebrate this Island treasure on Sunday, after the 10 am service, so around 11 am at a special reception at the Federated Church, 45 South Summer St., Edgartown.
Rabbi Caryn Broitman leads a Zoom class on “Ecclesiastes, Job, and Daniel: Meaning and Mystery in the Later Writings of the Hebrew Bible,” coming up on Wednesdays, Nov. 10 to Dec. 15, with the class continuing into 2022. For more information, visit mvhc.us or call 508-693-0745.
If you have any news for Have Faith, email firstname.lastname@example.org.