A Message from George Sargeant

A message from George Sargeant, Associate Organist and Choirmaster:

Dear Old South Church Family,

Last Sunday, during both First and Festival worship, we announced that, after nearly nineteen years as Associate Organist and Choirmaster, I will be saying my good-byes to you. I have accepted a call to serve as Director of Music and the Arts at Plymouth UCC in Shaker Heights, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland) and begin my duties there on August 1. My final Sunday among you will be July 21st.

I joined the Old South Staff in September 2005, back when Nancy Taylor and Quinn Caldwell were fresh faces. I had received a phone call from Brian Jones, who had just come on board as Interim Director of Music and Organist following his twenty-year tenure across Copley Square at Trinity Church. Brian had been tipped off by his successor at Trinity, Michael Kleinschmidt, that I was desperately looking for a new church job and he asked if I would be interested in becoming his associate. Curiously, his call came as I was a candidate for an interim job nearby at First and Second Church and I was practicing for that audition and interview. I was offered that job, but I turned it down, figuring that Old South would be a better deal. Of course I was right!

One of the first things I noted upon my arrival was that Old South was using a boom box to lead congregational singing at the 9 a.m. service. I asked Brian and my clergy colleagues why this was happening, when we had two highly skilled musicians on the staff. The change to live music was soon implemented with Brian and me alternating Sundays. I remained an active part of the musical leadership of that service for the next twelve years.

My first Easter at Old South featured several of my hymn arrangements. Arranging hymns is perhaps my greatest musical gift, and it was both exciting and humbling to hear them being played and sung by exceptionally talented instrumentalists and singers for the first time in my life, to say nothing of being joined by a congregation of 800+!

I continued in my associate's role when Harry Huff arrived to serve as Minister of Music. In addition to helping Harry lead the Old South Choir at the 11 a.m. service, I began to develop some musical programming for our youth. We procured some percussion instruments for them and many joined in on hymns and anthems from time to time. In 2009, I organized a choir for high schoolers, though it only lasted a year since the half of them were seniors and there weren't enough younger singers entering high school to replenish the ranks and keep it going.

The arrival of Elizabeth Myer-Bolton as Associate Minister, along with her husband Matt, brought bluegrass music to what is now known as First Worship, and the two of them started what eventually became the First Singers, then known simply as the Pick-Up Choir. With the departure of the Myer-Boltons, Laurel Leslie took over leadership of that choir, and Harry tasked me with directing it any time Laurel was away.

Harry's sudden death in the fall of 2016 shocked and saddened us all. For me, it also meant a substantial shift in my job description, as Tim Harbold came on board as Interim Choir Director, and organ and choral duties were completely separated. During this time, I also assumed many of Harry's administrative responsibilities and performed the First Night concerts in 2016 and 2017. When Mitchell Crawford was called to succeed Harry as Minister of Music, my responsibilities reverted to something closer to what they had been under Harry.

Two years later came COVID. In-person worship was suspended for nearly a year and a half, and I needed to develop new video and audio skills in order to carry out my part in presenting virtual worship. This proved to be useful in other ways, as I soon decided to embrace the future and expand my ministry to online platforms such as YouTube. This dimension of my work has continued even as we returned to live worship.

Over the past two years, Mitchell and I have worked closely with organ curator Jonathan Ambrosino to carry out some long-planned restoration work on the Sanctuary organ. One of my greatest regrets about leaving Old South is that I won't be around to see through the remaining work that needs to be done.

At Plymouth, I will not only direct the adult choir, but also the handbell choir, which will be a first for me. I am also charged with developing musical opportunities for children and youth. There is a concert series which I will help manage. Perhaps most important to me at this point in my life is that the church offers an internship in church music. In the coming years, I will be serving as a mentor to many college students entering the field.

The Cleveland area is not unfamiliar to me, as I did my undergraduate work in Ashland, which is just an hour away to the southwest. Though I will have much work to do to develop new relationships both professional and personal, there are about a half dozen or so people in Ohio whom I have either kept in touch with over the years or with whom I could easily reestablish contact.

I will forever grateful for the privilege of ministering to and with you, the Old South congregation, along with my musical, clergy, and other staff colleagues too numerous to mention, these past nineteen years.

In the immortal words of J.S. Bach, Soli Deo Gloria! (To God alone the glory!)

Yours truly,

George A. Sargeant