2018-01-26 / Front Page / JT Beacon

Choir gives new meaning to 'The Voice of Experience'

Special for the Journal Tribune

KENNEBUNKPORT — It’s 8:30 Sunday morning. Just 45 minutes before show time to rehearse the Introit, Anthem, Choral Response and three hymns before parishioners start settling into the pews for the Sunday service. 

Warming up to the music they are about to tackle are a saucy and smiling group of mostly septuagenarians and octogenarians. What they often lack in numbers, they make up in purpose and passion. Because for the next two hours they are, The Choir, at First Congregational Church in Kennebunkport.

While First Church practices and shares a traditional Congregational faith and mission, the members of its choir share potent and diverse musical and religious backgrounds and all told, it's more than 480 years of song, verse and voice experience.

The Interim Pastor at First Church, the Rev. Jim Henry, also brings musical expertise to the services.

Henry was an accomplished trombonist for many years, and he recently accompanied a First Church “Hymn Sing.”

An intrepid mix of voices and personalities, the choir’s skill in sacred music has been cultivated and honed in glee clubs and in Pentecostal, Congregational, and liturgical churches, and in synagogues.

One member toured Europe with her Smith College choir. Another diligently learned Gregorian chant. A soprano studied piano in childhood and now sings in a Kennebunk-area community chorus. And a fourth concedes to singing so softly it hardly counts, but shows up every Sunday for the sheer love of singing.

While a few of the members can read music, most cannot. No matter how you consider it, this is a lot of musical punch. No, better, a fabulous fondue.

The varied backgrounds seem not to matter when this group gathers to sing. It’s their love of music, their expression of faith and commitment to each other that has them showing up every Sunday to be gently stirred by Music Director Joyce Painter Rice.

"My choir may sing with much less volume than their voices once had, but the fact that they’ve been singing their entire lives offsets all of that. Their singing reflects their experience and faith, always adding new beauty and meaning to the music,” Rice said.

Still, Rice is mindful to keep music within easy ranges, avoiding harmonic or melodic highs and lows when choosing their Sunday repertoire.

Like a great fondue, this group is well blended, with a hint of great wine. Their singing histories meld, and together they are mindfully unified. Paul, who sits next to John, offers, “I can’t read music, but I can sure sing the notes and tones he is in. Sitting next to him I follow his leads.”

The choir’s singing on Sunday is as much about not letting one another down as it is about raising their voices up.

As Jan puts it, “When the clock chimes 8:45, we’re looking at the door anxiously, hoping that when it opens, another one of us will be walking through it.”

Sometimes that door only opens four times, and on a very good Sunday, it's 10. Like any fondue, there is always room for another great cheese.

From its unique vantage along the side of the front of the church, the choir has eyes and ears, perspective and perch, on the congregation.

“We always know who’s missing on any given Sunday, who’s a newcomer and who arrives alone. That also makes us de-facto mother hens I guess, because First Church is well-known for its members offering to sit with ‘loners.’” Choir members sometimes make a friendly phone call to check in on members whom they notice have been absent.

The art and science of blending this special fondue is in the hands of Joyce Painter Rice, the music director of First Church for the last two years. 

Rice is an organist, recitalist, choral director and concert organizer who has served in music capacities in a wide range of religious institutions, including assistant at the First Lutheran Church of Boston.

A former office-holder with the Boston Chapter, American Guild of Organists and contributor to The Boston Musical Intelligencer, Rice has worked diligently with First Church’s Organ Restoration Committee. Their enthusiastic fund drive and numerous free-admission concerts engaged community awareness, resulting in donations sufficient to restore the church’s 1854 E. & G. G. Hook organ this year.

Asked to describe the choir she directs at First Church, Rice said, “singing in the choir simply gets around to what is important in life. It is the expression of life and faith, and we always know that it is God’s gift of music that we offer back in praise. Oftentimes my choir expresses their deepest thoughts in their singing. I hear their voices as stunning examples of lives so well lived. They are an inspiration.”

The choir at First Church in Kennebunkport is open to all voices. You do not have to be a member of the church to join. For more information, contact Joyce Painter Rice at joyceorganist@aol.com.


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