Trinity Episcopal Church is more beauty than the eye can behold at times. That is when one sits down, closes their eyes and just listens to the music.
For some, the allure to the Upperville church could be due to the stunning cluster of sandstone and limestone buildings comprising the sublime church, parish hall, or the courtyard modeled after 12th and 13th century French churches. For others, the intricately carved stone and woodwork and the striking stained-glass windows depicting old and new testament scenes inside the church touch their heart.
However one is drawn, Trinity’s music and fellowship may be what brings them back. Music has long been considered by members and visitors alike to be one of Trinity’s greatest strengths. From the adult choir to the children’s choirs, hand bell choir, organist and instrumental accompanists, Trinity Church offers the chance to enjoy fine sacred music week in and week out.
“We offer a balance of high caliber, accessible and participatory music that supports worship,” says Christian Myers, director of Music Ministries. “Visitors to Trinity Church almost always comment on the quality of music,” says Betsy Crenshaw, administrative assistant at Trinity Episcopal Church. “They’re often surprised, especially being a country church in a tiny, little town.”
Twenty-seven years ago, Myers came to Trinity by way of Shenandoah Conservatory. Throughout the years, he’s led Christian education classes, choirs and youth groups. For the past 12 years, he’s focused his talents and passions exclusively on the church’s music programs. While appreciative of the compliments describing the music in the worship service as concert quality or the choirs’ and accompanying instrumentalists’ contributions as performances, that is not the mission. Myers aims to make the music accessible for everyone. He wants people to experience the sacredness of the music, as well as the quality.
The music program’s mission statement is posted on a bulletin board above his desk. “It is our mission to enable and to encourage all members of the parish to share in the experience of glorifying God through music; to teach together the skills of music and the practices of faith; and to build the body of Christ through worship, rehearsal, outreach and fellowship using music as an instrument of
God’s peace.” “I read it every day,” the author says. “Music is a ministry. I always want that balance of music and ministry.” Still, owing to many factors, the music is exceptional. The vocal talent of the adult choirs, the dedication of a group of ringers in the bell choir, a masterful organist on a notable pipe organ, and Myers’ ability to get the best out of even a squirmy 5-year-old, all contribute to the success of the music program.
“Many factors make the space so great,” says Myers. “The actual building has one of the best natural acoustics for music. The ring of the room is like a cathedral, but with much better clarity. The ambiance plays together with the sound, too,” he continues. “Over time, I have learned how to use the acoustics and different parts of the church to best advantage. I am one with the room.”
Myers uses his broad base of music knowledge and the church’s distinctive acoustics to tease out the choirs’ and musicians’ highest potential through inspiring hymns and sacred music week after week. He prefers the long legato line, quiet consonants and rounded vowels. “I train the choir to sing for that space,” says Myers. “The kids love to come to choir practice. The octogenarians love to come to choir practice, and everyone in between loves to come to choir practice,” says Stephanie Knapp, who is a parent of kids in children’s choirs. Knapp is also a member of the bell choir and music committee.
“The music ministry at Trinity is really a collection of small group ministries with music at the center but with Christian formation as the true result,” she adds. The adult choir is made up mostly of volunteers with five paid section leaders who sing primarily at the 10:30 Sunday services. There are two children’s choirs for ages 4 to second grade and third to eighth grade and a bell choir. “Christian is able to put those things together and make it all happen in a joyful way,” says Crenshaw. “He makes everyone feel good about what they’re doing, whether they can sing or not.” There is a striking humility to Myers about his talents. In addition to his direction of music, he’s a fine vocalist, pianist and organist. “He’s so talented; he could work anywhere in music, but this is his dream job,” says Crenshaw.
The opportunities in music brought Myers over the mountain 27 years ago, but it’s his ministry that has captured him. “I would take a non-music job at a church before I would go outside for a music job,” says Myers.
The magic of Trinity Church’s music is no accident. The alchemy of talent, acoustics and superb direction tell most of the story, but the defining element just might be a bit more subtle and spiritual. “Christian just does it all so joyfully,” says Crenshaw.
Story and photos by Kerry Phelps Dale
This article first appeared in the September 2018 Issue.