Musicians build community at Sewanee Church Music Conference
“Welcome. We’re glad you’re here.” begins the written greeting from Robbe Delcamp, president and 2014 director of Sewanee Church Music Conference. And he means it. From conference director, throughout all of the governing board, to clinicians hired in for the event, to the conference chaplain….they all mean to welcome attendees and succeed greatly at the task. If you’ve attended previously, surely more than one of them will remember you and call you by name when you first enter the door of venerable old Claiborne Hall to register and check in.
It’s family. Family begun sixty-four years ago. Family who mourns the passing of its members and celebrates their successes. As the old saying goes, “You’re a stranger here but once.” That “here” is referred to as the “Holy Mountain” and is located in the natural beauty that is called Tennessee.
Most events, classes and rehearsals are held at DuBose Conference Center in Monteagle. DuBose is a lovingly cared-for older institution which has served in various capacities over its long life. The University of the South, more commonly referred to simply as “Sewanee”, is located about six miles to the south, and is the location of all other events.
The university’s cornerstone was laid in 1860 and was soon blown up by Union forces during the War Between the States, an event captured in one of the stained glass windows of All Saints’ Chapel. This chapel, on a campus of incredible beauty and interest, is where the conference attendees sing Evensong and Sunday Eucharist. Held here also is the Gerre Hancock Concert, this year performed by Peter Richard Conte and Todd Wilson, organists, on the three manual Cassavant organ and featuring not only technically excellent performance of organ repertoire, but also two classic silent films (Laurel & Hardy’s Big Business and Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid) with improvisation by Wilson and Conte, respectively. The Chapel of the Apostles, also located on campus, with its two manual Cassavant, is also utilized for organ master classes during the week.
Wilson and Conte also served as clinicians for the week.Wilson is head of the organ department at Cleveland Institute of Music and Director of Music and Worship at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. He is also curator of the E. M. Skinner pipe organ at Severance Hall (home of the Cleveland Orchestra) and house organist for the newly-restored Aeolian organ at the Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Akron. Wilson will begin his tenure as SCMC Director with next year’s conference. Conte is celebrating his 25th year as Wanamaker Grand Court Organist at Macy’s department store in Philadelphia, only the fourth person to hold that title since the organ first played in 1911. He performs concerts twice daily, six days a week, on the largest fully-functioning musical instrument in the world. He is also principal organist of Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA and choirmaster and organist of St. Clement’s Church, Philadelphia, where he directs a choir he refers to as “The Clementones”.
Chaplain for the week was the Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander, Th.D., D. D., dean of the School of Theology at University of the South. Alexander served previously as bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta and has served on faculty in many well known colleges, universities and seminaries in the United States. He is also an author of numerous publications in the fields of liturgics, homiletics, sacramental theology and pastoral practice. Alexander is a warm and loving individual, a trait which came out in his interesting lectures, his warm sermons and his attitude when just “hanging out” with conference attendees.
Rather than recounting all events and activities during the week, as those can be found at the conference website, I chose to give you a sense of the feelings one experiences during this unique week of worship and learning. Experiences such as getting to know church musicians serving throughout the United States as well as in the Diocese of Southern Ohio, being struck by the overwhelming friendliness and hospitality of the communities of Monteagle and Sewanee and enjoying the scenic wonder of this area of Tennessee. I encourage not only Episcopal Church musicians to attend, but to invite their musician friends from other denominations to join you—there is something for everyone at this conference.
John Glaze serves as organist at St. Mary’s, Hillsboro.