Downtown churches announce joint community concert May 7

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2023

SALISBURY — When he arrived in Salisbury three years ago as the new music director at First United Methodist Church, Joshua Starnes knew he wanted to preserve the church’s tradition of providing sacred music for the community.

It wasn’t long until he met John Stafford, his counterpart just a block down Fisher Street at First Presbyterian Church. Over lunch, Starnes said they talked about his goals for his new church, and the conversation slowly veered toward music collaboration.

They delved further into how their music programs might work together on a religious music project, what music they might perform, and in what timeframe they could make it happen.

Within a short time, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down society, even closing church doors for as long as a year. When restrictions were lifted, Americans did not return to public spaces at the pace anticipated.

Starnes and Stafford helped their churches slowly welcome back members and rebuild their music programs while waiting for the right time to set a date for their concert.

Their music collaboration, spanning more than three years from inception to performance, will finally come to fruition on May 7 with a free concert of sacred music to be held at 3 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in downtown Salisbury.

The concert will feature the works of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria in D Major, RV 589” from 1715 and John Leavitt’s 2013 “Missa Festiva.”

Soloists Mary Endsley Foil of Winston-Salem, Theresa Moore-Mitchell of Salisbury, and guest musicians from the Salisbury Symphony will join the combined choirs from both churches.

“We were very intentional in that we wanted to use local musicians in this performance,” Starnes said. “And we wanted it to be a way to give back to the community. The project also needed to be missional in one respect while also being outreach in the sense that it produces high caliber music for people to enjoy.”

The pieces to be performed are similar in their use of biblical text from Luke 2, which begins with angels announcing the birth of Jesus and singing praise to God using the words “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” which translates to glory to God in the highest.

Today’s audiences recognize those lyrics as key text from the ancient Latin Mass used in the Catholic church and the popular Christmas carol with the same name.

The section of Vivaldi’s “Gloria” to be performed at the concert was likely written by Vivaldi to be used as the Latin Mass at a girls’ orphanage in Venice, where he served as music director.

The vocal solos were written for female voices, and the orchestration is simple, using one oboe, one trumpet and strings. At the concert, it will be performed as authentic presentation music.

Following Vivaldi’s death, his “Gloria” disappeared for almost two centuries before being rediscovered in 1930 and given a 20th-century premiere. Since then, it has remained the most popular of all Vivaldi’s works.

Starnes indicated that the second piece, John Leavitt’s “Missa Festiva,” is considered one of the most important choral works of the last generation because it offers multiple musical styles and lends itself well to a larger choral setting.

“These are both sacred pieces with a mission to glorify God and using texts familiar to any liturgical or worship setting,” Starnes said. “This will be a beautiful pairing of these two pieces to see the timeless tradition presented in various musical genres spanning over 500 years.”

Leavitt began composing the first part of “Missa Festiva” in 1988 when it was commissioned as a festival piece for the International Choral Symposium in Kansas City, Missouri. He finished all five parts in 1991. Leavitt holds a doctorate of musical arts in conducting from the University of Missouri – Kansas City Conservatory of Music.

He has been a regular guest conductor at major venues, including New York’s Carnegie Hall and Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He has also conducted in Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral.

Leavitt has published across all media and genres as a composer and arranger. Many of his compositions and arrangements are standard repertoire performed across the globe. He spends most of his time composing, guest conducting and producing new work in the recording studio.

Theresa Moore-Mitchell is an assistant professor of voice at Livingstone College and an adjunct vocal instructor at Catawba College. She has been a successful Christian classical concert artist and has performed solo concerts throughout the United States, Cuba, Greece and Europe.

As a touring artist for Opera Carolina, she introduced thousands of young people to opera. Her credits include singing at the opening banquet of Dr. Maya Angelou’s play, “And Still I Rise,” at the request of the founder of the National Black Theater Festival, and performing at Carnegie Hall on four occasions.

Mary Endsley Foil holds a music degree in voice from the University of Texas at Austin and a master of music degree in choral conducting from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. For more than 20 years, she has enjoyed her experience as a musical and stage director, a published lyricist, a vocalist and a private music instructor. She continues to perform extensively throughout the area while maintaining an active teaching studio of piano, voice and guitar.

The concert is offered to the community at no charge. A freewill offering will be received at intermission to benefit Rowan Helping Ministries. Guests will be invited to enjoy a light reception with refreshments after the concert and in the church’s Carter Lobby.

First Methodist Church of Salisbury is located at 217 South Church Street in Salisbury.