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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Seven choirs, one mission

Oct 30, 2019 10:49AM ● By Diana Barnett

Choir director’s music ministry crosses borders

First Presbyterian Church's music ministry has evolved into seven accomplished musical groups under the direction of Dr. John Howard, who has created opportunities for people of all ages and musical backgrounds to participate.

Howard's mission is to make music exciting, pleasing and uplifting for all ages to counteract the lack of public music education and music experience in general today.

The choirs consist of community members who want to be part of a quality music experience, not just church congregants. Members range from high schoolers to seniors in their 90s.

It’s choir time

Members are quick to share that Howard has been instrumental in creating an atmosphere that fosters personal development with the end product being musical excellence.

Julie Sabeff sings in the concert and worship choirs, participates in Ringers, the bell choir, and is currently taking voice lessons from Howard.

“John is quite the motivator, and makes you want to do your best,” Sabeff said.

One of the choir's newest members, Bill Averett, 81, joined last fall.

"Singing was something that was missing for me," he said. “[Howard] makes it entertaining. In fact, practices should be videoed for the enthusiasm. He jokes, and he sometimes pantomimes, but he expects the best and is not satisfied until he gets it because he knows we are capable of it."

Chris McGee had never sang in a choir before she came to a First Presbyterian Christmas concert more than two years ago.

“I had never sung in a choir before, but I wanted to be in this one," she said. "John manages to get more out of us than we know we can do. We surprise ourselves. I believe his focus is not only on us, but how the congregation will hear the music. Even though he is facing us when directing, he is always thinking about how we are coming across and how the music is moving others.”

A musical ministry

Howard considers his work a calling from God and involves all choir participants in his ministry.

A music aficionado from an early age, Howard begged his mother to sit in the front row at church so he could watch the pianist play the hymns. He later went on to learn the piano, then organ in college. Howard has earned three degrees in music, which eventually landed him in his current position as music director and organist at First Presbyterian. His emphasis is on sacred classical music, which he incorporates in all the groups.

“When you need to hear something inspiring, uplifting or healing, you can do that through hymns," Howard said. "You may not remember words from a sermon in 30 years, but you’ll remember words from traditional hymns.”

International touring

In 2017, the choir and bell choir traveled to Germany and performed during the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in various churches and cathedrals—one of which was the building where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses.

“The highlight was singing in those big, beautiful cathedrals. The people who came to hear us were just in awe. Bell choirs are not common in Germany, and people would come up to touch the bells after our performances,” Sabeff recalled.

While church attendance has declined in Europe, choir tours have encouraged locals to return to their churches to hear the music. Howard’s hope is to change others’ lives with their music as well.

This year, the First Presbyterian singers traveled to Scotland, where John Knox started the early Presbyterian Reformation, as well as England and Ireland to share their specially prepared program, "Psalms Across the Pond."

“It is fun to be part of something really good," said Howard. "Fellowship, family and talent. It’s a beautiful bouquet."

For information on joining the choirs, call 242-1923 or email [email protected]

Ring in the holidays with First Presbyterian Christmas Concert

Concerts are standing room only. All vocal groups will perform at the church, located at 3940 27 1/2 Road, Grand Junction. Saturday, December 14, 5 p.m. & 7 p.m. as well as Sunday, December 15 at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. & 6 p.m.