Paul Meier had big shoes to fill when he took over as director of music for Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral. His predecessor, John Schaefer, had established the Episcopal cathedral as an important player in Kansas City’s classical music community, providing a venue for arts organizations as well as maintaining one of the best church music programs in the city.
By all accounts, Meier’s first year, which began on Feb. 1, 2017, has been a success. To celebrate he’ll present a short organ recital preceding a Candlemas concert by the Sacred Arts Chorale on Feb. 2 at the cathedral.
Meier grew up in the small town of Port Angeles, Wash., on the Olympic peninsula. It’s about as far northwest as you can get. As a child, he and his brother were drawn to music. While his older brother learned to play the organ, Meier took piano lessons. Then one fateful day, his brother went to the bathroom.
“My mom would take me to church when my brother would practice on the organ so I wouldn’t be left at home alone,” Meier said. “At the time, I was practicing a Bach piece on the piano at home, and when my brother went to the bathroom, I got up and tried it out on the organ. I discovered it’s fun to play the organ because you can make a lot of noise. I just enjoyed doing that, so I continued doing that, and I’m still doing that.”
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Meier was the assistant director of music for Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, which has three organs and an acclaimed music program. Grace & Holy Trinity only has one organ, but it’s not too shabby. The 48-stop, 67-rank Gabriel Kney tracker organ played a part in Meier’s decision to take the job in Kansas City.
“You don’t take a job just because of the organ, but it’s a lovely mechanical action instrument, and it was a definite plus,” he said. “It does Bach and his ilk well, and Bach’s my favorite composer.”
Meier intends to maintain and expand Schaefer’s musical legacy. He lives downtown and would like to add programs to appeal to younger people who are living in greater numbers near the cathedral. Meier looks to St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle for inspiration. Every Sunday at 9 p.m., the Seattle cathedral presents a compline service complete with high church liturgy and traditional choral music. It’s always a packed house, with many young hipsters sitting on the floors, being transported by the music.
“I couldn’t believe it when I attended there, the crazy response that they get,” Meier said. “It’s a cool thing, and I’d love for us to be able to embrace that. Compline is very cleansing. It’s at the end of the day and very relaxing and it’s so much part of the Anglican tradition.”
Meier hopes the Candlemas concert will draw in some of the First Friday art lovers who are wandering downtown and the Crossroads. The feast of Candlemas celebrates the ritual purification of Mary, which took place 40 days after the birth of Christ. The traditional liturgy includes blessing the candles that the church will use in the coming year, as well as candles brought by congregants.
Grace & Holy Trinity’s concert, sponsored in part by the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, is not a religious service, however, and will appeal to those of all faiths.
The Sacred Arts Chorale directed by Rebecca Johnson will perform the Missa Pange Lingua by Josquin des Prez, one of the greatest choral works of the Renaissance. Lutanist Beau Bledsoe will play musical interludes, and Eddie Straub will read poetry by William Shakespeare, John Donne, T.S. Eliot and Kansas City’s own bard, Vern Barnet. At 6:30 p.m., Meier will give an organ recital of music by Bach, Charles Wood and César Franck. There will be free child care and complimentary refreshments at 6 p.m.
So far, Meier is thoroughly enjoying his time in Kansas City and is looking forward to serving the cathedral and the community for many years to come.
“It’s a wonderful city of surprises,” Meier said. “I grew up in lumber country, so I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful trees and the green hills. I had a colleague who said this, and I think it’s true, Kansas City punches above its weight in terms of the arts. I mean, to have a symphony orchestra where the players have a new, beautiful, wonderful hall instead of having budget cutbacks. People get excited about the arts here. That’s a really neat thing.”
William Baker Festival Singers
William Baker, founder and director of the William Baker Festival Singers, recalled seeing William F. Buckley interview Southern novelist Walker Percy.
“In the introduction, Buckley marveled at how the South was, in his words, ‘a cradle of literary genius,’ ” Baker said. “I remembered that phrase, and I borrow it to say that I believe Kansas City is a cradle of creative genius in musical composition.”
The William Baker Festival Singers will present a “Festival of Kansas City Composers” Sunday, Jan. 28, at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. The Festival Singers will be joined by Allegro Con Moto directed by Christy Elsner and the Heritage Choir of Mid-America Nazarene University directed by Christopher Smith. The choirs will perform music by local composers Ed Frazier Davis, Sean Sweeden, Vince Gover and Geoffrey Wilcken, and by R. Douglas Helvering, a former composer-in-residence for the Festival Singers and now on the faculty of the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J.
3 p.m. Jan. 28. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 1307 Holmes. $5-$15. Tickets available at the door or FestivalSingers.org/concerts.
Library Benefit Concert
It’s a busy week for the William Baker Festival Singers. On Feb. 3, the ensemble will perform a concert to benefit the Jane Sullivan Choral Resource Library. The program will again include music by local composers, as well as works by Anton Bruckner, Norman Dello Joio and Morten Lauridsen. Admission is free but donations will be accepted to benefit the library, a comprehensive collection of choral titles, reference books and CD recordings. The William Baker Choral Foundation intends to thoroughly catalog the library and make it available to conductors, scholars and choral organizations nationwide.
7 p.m. Feb. 3. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 416 S.E. Grand Ave., Lee’s Summit. Free. For more information, call 913-403-9223.
Kansas City Symphony
Leonard Bernstein would have turned 100 in 2018, and the Kansas City Symphony is honoring this important anniversary by featuring Bernstein’s music throughout the season. Feb. 2 to 4, Michael Stern will conduct one of Bernstein’s most important “serious” works, the Serenade for Violin and Orchestra.
Inspired by Plato’s Symposium, it’s a sort of violin concerto that contemplates love from the viewpoint of five Greek thinkers. The Serenade was first performed in 1954 with Bernstein conducting the Israel Philharmonic and Michael Stern’s father, Isaac, as the violin soloist. Sharon Roffman will be the soloist for the Kansas City performance.
Also on the program is John Corigliano’s Elegy for Orchestra and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”
8 p.m. Feb. 2 and 3 and 2 p.m Feb. 4. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $25-$87, 816-471-0400 or kcsymphony.org.
You can reach Patrick Neas at email@example.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.